Monday, January 20, 2014

Abilities of critical nonprofit board thinkers

"If only we had board members who were better critical thinkers..."

When decisions get tough, some of us dream wistfully of a boardroom full of wise, deep-thinking leaders who can analyze an array of options placed before us. Unfortunately, if our dreams meet reality, it's more often the luck of the draw rather than a result of a thoughtful, broad recruitment process that recognizes criteria that are not often easy to identify.

Like critical thinking.

Recently, while reading Sharan Merriam and Laura Bierma's Adult Learning: Linking Theory and Practice, I ran across a list (p. 223) of "abilities of critical thinkers" (citing work* by R.H. Ennis) that make the qualities we need more visible and accessible.

  • "Assume a position or change it based on the evidence."
  • "Remain relevant to the point."
  • "See information and precision in the information sought."
  • "Exhibit open-mindedness."
  • "Consider the big picture."
  • "Focus on the original problem."
  • "Search for reason."
  • "Orderly consider complex components of problems."
  • "Seek a clear statement of the problem."
  • "Seek options."
  • "Show sensitivity to others' feelings and knowledge."
  • "Use credible sources."

Undoubtedly, some of us have more experience, and perhaps more inherent capacity, for critical thinking. But this list also reminds me that there also are ways to increase our awareness and consciously incorporate into our board discussions.

As you read Ennis's list of critical thinking skills, what does it seem to offer boardroom interactions and decision making?

If we were to find a way to identify one's capacity for critical thinking, what would that look like and how might we appropriately value it in board member recruitment?

* Ennis, R.H. (1989). Critical thinking and subject specificity: Clarification and needed research. Educational Researcher, 18(3),  4-10.


Nancy Iannone said...

Wow - this blog post really got my brain going.

If all boards valued and embraced critical thinking as a key component of board effectiveness what would that make possible in our communities/world?

What would it take to make critical thinking an integral part of board function? What would the conversations sound like? What would we see happening in the community as a result of this level of discussion?

What would it take? How would recruitment processes be different? What kind of training and mentoring would help new board members engage in a critical thinking process?

Lots to think about this lazy, hazy Saturday.

Debra Beck, EdD said...

Fantastic questions, Nancy! The last, in particular, caught my eye (big surprise, I know...). It's one thing to know about critical thinking. It's quite another to build those skills collectively and know how to harness them for effective governance. I do think that training and mentoring is an essential piece of this puzzle.