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Books for those in ministry organizations who desire to take their leadership, teams, governance, and ministry effectiveness to the next level.

07 Sep '11

Leaders and critical thinking

One of the unique roles leaders play for their team or organization is the discipline of critical thinking: Where are we going? How will we get there? What are we going after? What spells success? Do I have the right people? Are they situated in the right "lane"? Is there absolute clarity around our mission? What are the priorities for this coming year? Who will take over if I am taken out of the picture? Are we maximizing our spiritual influence? and the list could go on. 

Taking the time to reflect on the most important questions that help a ministry flourish is one of the key jobs of a leader. Because it is a hidden practice (it is not up front) and because it is not a physical activity, it is often lost in the busyness of all the other things leaders must do. Yet this basic discipline is the most critical thing a leader should be doing on an ongoing basis. 

If a leader does not pay attention to this area of their leadership role, someone else in the organization who thinks deeply often will. They will be the ones asking the right questions and trying to help the team define clarity and success. Ironically, people will gravitate to and often follow the individual who can help the organization think critically whether they have the title of leader or not. While many do not have the skill for critical thinking (they are primarily doers), most desire to have clarity about what they are about, where they are going and how they will get there.

As the leader of an organization, I actually build into my schedule, thinking and writing days or weeks. They are intentionally kept clear for the discipline of thinking, and then clarifying through writing. I also have some key members of my staff who are great critical thinkers and regularly we will call a meeting in a room full of white boards to tackle a significant issue. In fact, the majority of my meetings are designed to do problem solving, get to clarity on an important issue, rethink how we are doing what we do and maximize our impact. 

The discipline of critical thinking extends to hires that we make as well. There are few decisions that are more critical than the people one hires. They will either help drive the ministry forward or keep it back. The higher the level the hire, the more true this is. Thus, investing significant time in evaluating, dialoguing with, listening to and thinking through the strengths and weaknesses they bring to the ministry is crucial. 


There are consequences to every decision we make. Part of critical thinking is to ask the question: What are the unintended consequences of the decision we are considering. All decisions have consequences, it is the unintended consequences that we need to identify because they can compromise the very thing we are trying to accomplish. Knowing them becomes part of the critical thinking equation.


In a complex world, critical thinking is often a group activity. While I do a great deal of thinking about organizational issues alone, I never pull the trigger on a major decision without involving my key ministry colleagues. The power of combined thinking and wisdom is far higher than the wisdom of any one of us by ourselves. This is also why I often call meetings of key individuals to together tackle an important issue.

This requires a spirit of humility and collaboration on the part of leaders. Lone ranger leaders, no matter how great their critical thinking skills are will not maximize their organization's potential by themselves. We need other critical thinkers around us as well as their buy in - and if we together are part of the solution, we will all buy into that solution.

Good thinkers are also people who seek the wisdom of colleagues from other ministries to find out what they are experiencing, how they are tackling like problems and what "dumb tax" they have paid that you should avoid. If ministry leaders talked more often and with greater candor we would together raise the bar for all of our ministries.


Critical thinking is a hallmark of leaders who stay in front of those they are leading, always asking the right (and hard) questions, and always looking for better solutions to maximize the spiritual influence of their organization. It is also the route to innovation!