Great leaders think evaluatively

photo by karigee on Flickr

“Great leaders think strategically.”

So opens a March 2012 article from Forbes magazine entitled How to Develop 5 Critical Thinking Types.

The article goes on to list the five types of critical thinking that allow leaders to “strike a balance between visualizing what might or could be and an effective day-to-day approach to implementation”.

Now tell me, evaluators, does anything in this list feel familiar?

  1. Critical thinking is the mental process of objectively analyzing a situation by gathering information from all possible sources, and then evaluating both the tangible and intangible aspects, as well as the implications of any course of action.
  2. Implementation thinking is the ability to organize ideas and plans in a way that they will be effectively carried out.
  3. Conceptual thinking consists of the ability to find connections or patterns between abstract ideas and then piece them together to form a complete picture.
  4. Innovative thinking involves generating new ideas or new ways of approaching things to create possibilities and opportunities.
  5. Intuitive thinking is the ability to take what you may sense or perceive to be true and, without knowledge or evidence, appropriately factor it in to the final decision.

The article goes on to say that “in today’s hyper-fast world … the ability to ponder possibilities, see patterns and connections that others don’t see, and look at the same data in new and different ways represents a formidable competitive advantage.”

This got me wondering …

  • What specifically do we have to offer leaders in the way of evaluative reasoning and critical thinking that they could more directly use?
  • How else might we need to develop in order to more effectively inform top-level strategic thinking?
  • How well do we position ourselves – and evaluation – as contributors at that level?

On the last question, my experience has been that evaluation is too often positioned with the primary intended users at the operational (implementation, details) level rather than at the strategic level.

Why is that?

Maybe because of a pervasive preference among evaluators for gearing evaluations like this, for formative, operational purposes rather than for strategic purposes?

Maybe we are a bit timid about positioning ourselves outside our comfort zones, at a more strategic level?

Or maybe we would like to but we haven’t worked out how, yet?

The result of where we are usually positioned is that somehow we end up having to trust those at lower levels of the organization to push our key messages up to senior leaders. And how well does that work?

What can we do more proactively to position evaluation as a tool for strategic leadership thinking?

Part of this may have to do with pushing the conversation in that direction as one way of engaging leaders. Asking, for example …

What value can evaluation add to critical thinking for leaders?

5 Critical Thinking Types Inject Some Evaluative Thinking and …
Critical thinking is the mental process of objectively analyzing a situation by gathering information from all possible sources, and then evaluating both the tangible and intangible aspects, as well as the implications of any course of action. Evaluative critical thinking can provide leaders with useful frameworks for working out what sources to consider, from what angles, how to grapple with tangibles and intangibles, and how to evaluate evidence and courses of action in terms of value and benefit trade-offs.
Implementation thinking is the ability to organize ideas and plans in a way that they will be effectively carried out. Evaluative implementation thinking can help leaders maximize the quality of programming and implementation and the value of outcomes by getting the theory of change and theory of action right.

Add developmental evaluation, and we can help hone this evaluative [design and] implementation thinking as implementation and development proceed.

Conceptual thinking consists of the ability to find connections or patterns between abstract ideas and then piece them together to form a complete picture. Evaluative conceptual thinking can help leaders find connections and patterns not just among abstract ideas, but also with all-important customer needs and values, strategic vision and intent.
Innovative thinking involves generating new ideas or new ways of approaching things to create possibilities and opportunities. Evaluative innovative thinking can help leaders generate new ideas or approaches with a clear line of sight through to valuable outcomes.
Intuitive thinking is the ability to take what you may sense or perceive to be true and, without knowledge or evidence, appropriately factor it in to the final decision. Evaluative intuitive thinking can help leaders take what they sense or believe to be true and use evidence and evaluative reasoning to show why it should (or, shouldn’t!) be factored into the final decision.

Thoughts? What would you add to the above?

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2 comments to Great leaders think evaluatively

  • Afriando Tarigan

    If I am evaluator, I Like 3 your concept as 3 above :
    # Critical thinking is the mental process of objectively analyzing a situation by gathering information from all possible sources, and then evaluating both the tangible and intangible aspects, as well as the implications of any course of action.
    # Implementation thinking is the ability to organize ideas and plans in a way that they will be effectively carried out.
    # Conceptual thinking consists of the ability to find connections or patterns between abstract ideas and then piece them together to form a complete picture.

  • Nan Wehipeihana

    An excellent summary of the types of leadership thinking and the contribution of evaluation to leadership, leaders and decision-making. For me it is a higher order framing of evaluation utilization, i.e. whilst we labor theory, approaches, methodologies and practice with the desired aim of improving practice and the conduct of evaluation, ultimately it is our ability to apply evaluative, implementation, conceptual, innovative, and intuitive thinking to the ‘problem’ at hand which typically is of most value to our clients. Sometimes the potential to see evaluation’s contribution to ‘thinking’ is blurred because we are not directly engaging with key decision makers. Whilst we debate largely our methods and practice (and we do need to) ultimately it is the thinking that we apply to what we do, to the data we collect and the evidence we bring to bear that is the hallmark of our practice.