Insights and Lessons on Critical Thinking, HR and Leadership Development


In American Management Association’s critical skills survey 2012, respondents emphasized on 4 C’s (Critical thinking and problem solving, Effective Communication, Collaboration and team building and Creativity and innovation) as their key priorities for employee development, talent development and succession planning.

I have been exploring the topic of critical thinking with respect to HR, Talent Acquisition, Leadership Development, Communication and Training via series of posts at Pearson’s TalentLens Blog (@ThinKritical on Twitter). The premise is simple – if we improve how we think, we will improve how we develop people, innovate, solve problems and grow as individuals and organizations.

Here is a round up of all posts (with excerpts) written on this important topic so far.

Why Hiring Critical Thinkers is Absolutely Critical for HR

With people being at the core of an organization’s greatness, it is extremely important for HR professionals to pay attention to two things – that existing people are trained to think critically and people are hired based on their ability to think critically.

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Problem Solving in Organizations: A Diamond or a Coin?

Leaders are expected to take right decisions after considering various facets of a given problem – just like an expert jeweler looks at a diamond. Logic looks at problems as a coin with just two sides where as critical thinking is all about looking at the same problem as a diamond with multiple facets.

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10 Most Important Traits of a Leader Who Thinks Critically

Ability to think rationally and critically is one of the most important leadership skills and for the leader, thinking objectively is not just a skill, but also an obligation to the people they lead.

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Training and Development: 4 Ideas to Build a Culture of Critical Thinking

The reality is that training middle managers on critical thinking skills is much like teaching an adult to ride a bicycle. It takes patience, training and practice to be able to master the art of critical thinking which, in turn, leads to good decision making.

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3 Ways Critical Thinking Improves Emotional Quotient of Your Leaders

The fact is that a leader needs a fine balance of emotion and rationality to succeed. They need to connect with their people using emotion and decide what is best for them using rational thought. Critical Thinking is the connecting link between emotions and intelligence.

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Critical Thinking – Leaders, Know Thy Biases

Critical thinking is an antidote to cognitive biases. When we think critically, we recognize our own assumptions, evaluate arguments and draw conclusions.

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How Critical Thinking Helps in Effective Conflict Resolution

The truth is that conflicts, if managed well, are an opportunity to understand better, get to the root causes, introspect, improve and learn. A well-managed conflict often leads to improved clarity, better relationships and win-win situations.

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Creativity and Critical Thinking: Friends, Not Foes!

There is a difference between creative thinking and creativity. Creative thinking is the process of ideation (thinking). Creativity is about bringing that idea to life (execution).

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Critical Thinking: The Soul of Effective Communication

If communication is defined as a meaningful exchange of information, thoughts and feelings between two living creatures, critical thinking is the engine that provides this meaning.

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BONUS: Don’t miss the guest post “Environment is Everything” written by Mr. Gurprriet Siingh, Director and Head, YSC India, an executive coach, blogger and a social media influencer. His Twitter handle is @JoyandLife.

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Developing Leaders: Why Training Interventions Fail?

Companies spend considerable amount of time and money on developing leaders through training programs and workshops. My experience so far suggests that these time-bound and finite interventions fail over a long run in developing leadership capabilities.

I have attended a number of such training programs and workshops and have observed the impact of these interventions. I could see a short-term change in people who tried applying those ‘techniques’ but the impact eventually vanished with time and people slipped back into their normal ways of working. It seemed they needed something more than just training – they needed coaching, facilitation and developmental interventions over a long period of time. They needed a change in mindset and not just techniques, process or best practices in leadership.

According to a research by MIT Sloan Management Review titled “Why Leadership Development Efforts Fail”, the key reasons identified were:

  • Executives approach leadership development efforts with a control, ownership and power-oriented mindsets rather than an understanding of shared accountability.
  • Leadership development efforts are not aligned with strategic goals and leadership development programs are oriented around commercial products that have limited relevance to actual needs or an organization.
  • Use of incorrect “make-believe” metrics to gauge effectiveness of leadership development programs.

Views from a McKinsey article titled “Why leadership-development programs fail” concur with the reasons stated above. Not mapping the leadership development effort with an organization’s specific context is a mistake lot of companies make. According to this McKinsey article,

Focusing on context inevitably means equipping leaders with a small number of competencies (two to three) that will make a significant difference to performance. Instead, what we often find is a long list of leadership standards, a complex web of dozens of competencies, and corporate-values statements.

The article also emphasizes on value of changing the mindset rather than just imparting one-size-fits-all training programs. It says,

Identifying some of the deepest, “below the surface” thoughts, feelings, assumptions, and beliefs is usually a precondition of behavioral change—one too often shirked in development programs. Promoting the virtues of delegation and empowerment, for example, is fine in theory, but successful adoption is unlikely if the program participants have a clear “controlling” mind-set (I can’t lose my grip on the business; I’m personally accountable and only I should make the decisions).

In lean terms, imparting training that does not deliver intended results is a waste. It is high time for organizations to identify this waste and look carefully at how people are developed.

Developing people is an organic process that demands contextual mapping of best practices, experiential learning (leading through real work) and change in mindsets (and hence behaviors) required to lead in a new world of work.

Join in the conversation: What are the other key reasons why leadership development and training efforts fail? Have you adopted a different approach to nurture leadership in your organization? If yes, how has it helped?

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Announcing: The ASTD Management Development Handbook

American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) recently released a fantastic collection titled The ASTD Management Development Handbook”. This book provides current thinking on various management aspects by practicing management professionals. Lisa Haneberg, the editor of this book invited about 37 bloggers/authors to contribute their thinking – people who are active NOW, who are exploring the emerging trends in management and are willing to share their thinking on the best management practices. This is a very non-traditional approach to write a handbook of management development!

I am grateful to Lisa for inviting me to write in this book. I contributed a 23 page chapter titled “From Quality to Excellence: Essential Strategies for Building a Quality-Oriented Culture” (download the table of contents and a sample chapter here). My chapter covers key insights to lead for excellence.

In her foreword, Betsy Myers writes,

“The book in your hands is a remarkable compendium of fresh perspectives on management and leadership. As richly diverse as these authors and approaches are, they have one thing in common: They all are aimed at helping you become better at bringing out the best in yourself and the people around you.”

This is a management compendium for people who are already managing, people who are responsible for developing managers and the ones who aspire to manage someday. I think this book is also a very useful resource for the management students because it is a forward-looking book that touches upon very important topics which may not still be a part of their curriculum.

In management, it’s the soft stuff – the people stuff – that’s actually very hard as Tom Peters rightly says. People are right in the center of any excellence program and chapters in this book lay enough emphasis on this all-important human aspect of leading others towards greatness.

Management is important – a crucial link between strategic intentions at the top and real actions on the floor. It is also a privilege, an opportunity to make a huge difference in lives of others while getting important things done.

I hope you will pick up a copy of this book, have it in your library and share it with those you think will benefit out of it.

9 (More) Ideas for Effective Trainings

Trainings are at the core of most knowledge-oriented organizations and often considered to be key driver of employee behaviors, and hence culture. It is a lot of hard work, a lot of time, effort and energy spent. It better be effective. Here are 9 (more) ideas to ensure that trainings are effective (related ideas in links below):

  1. Training is not a silver bullet. Sometimes, business leaders over emphasize on trainings when other things are not working. One example: Providing a detailed training on roles and responsibilities to a team member may not work when the problem is how people are being managed.
  2. Often, we end up imparting detailed trainings on processes that are faulty. Even if people religiously follow the process, it may not yield desired business results. Before imparting training, ensure that your processes/content is accurate enough to yield desired business outcomes.
  3. Given our shrinking attention spans, long, detailed and tedious trainings will never help people. Good trainings that are poorly designed will also take a toll. Trainings are change agents and for that to happen, map training to real time actions. Show them how to do something, stir their imagination, raise important questions and then provide answers. Better yet, let them participate in finding answers and then reinforce lessons.
  4. Timing of the training is crucial. If you impart training on something which people may not use for next two months, the lessons will soon fade away. Impart training when it is most needed and can be used readily.
  5. Trainings that are done just because some external standard (like ISO) demands is a huge waste. Standards never tell us to conduct trainings at the cost of effectiveness.
  6. We don’t need trainers who speak like robots. We need humans, who bring their emotion to the training, share their personal stories, provide us perspectives and drive our imagination. If training is repetitive by nature, create a recorded version instead.
  7. The #1 job of a trainer is to focus on them – the participants. It’s not an opportunity to show how much you know about the subject, but how they can use that in their unique context.
  8. Manage the energy in room. People think training is about “flow” – continuity of ideas and speech. Yes, it is. In fact, it is also about "engaging change”. If a trainer speaks continuously for more than 5-7 minutes, the energy in the room loses to monotony. To add an element of change, throw up a question, show a video, share a story, ask audience to share their story, outline their challenges or let them do something. It re-aligns the energy in room.
  9. While you may not have a best sense of humor, it helps to lighten up things a bit during the training. Formal trainings have a bad reputation of being serious, and hence boring. If you (as a trainer) are not having fun, you cannot expect the audience to have it either!

Other Training Related Posts at QAspire Blog:

5 Ideas To Ensure That Trainings Effectively Deliver Value

Training: The Change Agent

Training Middle Managers On People Management Basics

Training and Development – A Holistic View

Training: The Change Agent

Organizations that embark on process journey initiate rigorous training programs to ensure that everyone is trained to perform activities associated with specific roles. While these initiatives start with a lot of zest, somewhere, it loses steam. I have seen training programs becoming more of a “necessary evil” over a period of time. Trainers take these trainings for granted and completely lose the sight of their objectives. They conduct trainings simply because they have a budget/training process/calendar that they have to comply with.

Imparting training is a costly affair. So many people from your organization spend those precious hours either conducting or attending training. Trainings done as a “necessary evil” is one of the biggest wastes I have seen in organizations. Effective trainings have become absolutely critical in knowledge oriented world to maintain the competitiveness and innovation.

For training to really deliver value, we need a shift in mindset. Trainings are not a just one-way affair – they are the change agents. Trainings, if done with right intent and zeal can transform the organization. Trainings are a great forum to set the expectations on behaviors you value and build the culture.

In one of the consulting companies I know, the Managing Director/Founder attended the quality induction training in the very first batch. He gave a clear message across the organization that attending the training was crucial, and that if he can attend it, no one else should be too busy not to attend it. Top management championed the cause to set the right example at the onset.

Training a mass may be a good way to drive expectations, but for training to be a change agent, we need to influence one person at a time. I know a technical leader who is very conscious about on-the-job mode of training. He believes that doing things together is the best way to teach. He uses a combination of class room training and interactive/short one on one sessions to drive learning in his team.

Bottom line: Whether you are a business leader, training manager or a trainer, ask this question before planning any training, “What change do I wish to see as a result of this training?” and your perspective would change from “imparting knowledge” to “inducing change”. Treat training as a change agent.

ET Young Leaders: An Opportunity to Shine

India’s economic growth is largely attributed to its “demographic dividend” – a large pool of talented, competitive and growing young workforce. For India Inc., this is an opportunity as well as a challenge.

Today, India Inc. needs more business leaders than ever before, who can not only direct the energies of the young professionals but also create new opportunities to creatively engage them.

If you are the one who thinks you have what it takes to be a business leader, you have an opportunity – The Economic Times, India’s largest business daily, has launched “The Economic Times Young Leaders” initiative today.

ET Young Leaders

For more information:

Indian professionals between 26 and 32 years can can both nominate themselves or be nominated by their companies, before being tested on leadership skills in a structured and rigorous four-phase process that will culminate with one-on-one sessions with eight high-profile business leaders and CEO’s. To do so, this program will use proven competencies developed by SHL Plc, and the Indian School of Business.

In my view, the concept is excellent, and the one that our business eco-system really needs. This initiative not only attempts to fill the leadership gap, but also provides a strong platform where aspiring individuals can test their competencies benchmarked against leadership metrics that have been developed based on learnings and experiences of corporate leaders from across the world.

So, what are you waiting for? You can register through their website, via their email address or simply send your email id to 58888.

It is an opportunity to shine, to be the best version of yourself and to accelerate your career. Don’t miss it!

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Note: Thanks to the ET Young Leaders team for providing me a Beta preview of this initiative, and for featuring my comments on their freshly launched website.

Training Middle Managers On People Management Basics

Here is a simple idea: Whenever you have a new manager (project manager/departmental leader) joining in your organization, put him/her through a simple  training program on how to manage people. Train existing managers as well.

The premise: Most project managers/team leaders get work done through team. I have also seen that a lot of people become managers because of their seniority in technical positions. But we know that managing people is far more than just technical skills. Most managers fail because they don’t know how people are managed.

Here are a few things (bare minimum) that MUST be included in the training:

  1. Leadership basics, traits and core expectations from a leader
  2. Setting a vision (for their projects/initiatives) and long-term thinking
  3. Fundamentals of dealing with people (and best practices therein)
  4. The art of effective delegation and empowerment
  5. Communication skills (oral and written), listening and non-verbal communication
  6. How to connect with people (team members, peers and clients)
  7. Leading with confidence
  8. Presentation skills
  9. Awareness about identifying and influencing impact of their actions on others
  10. How to coach and mentor people
  11. Kindness, care, humility and compassion at workplace
  12. A primer on vision and values of the organization and how it translates into real actions.
  13. Personal effectiveness and self-management
  14. Managing conflicts and understanding differences in personality types
  15. Basic fact finding and interviewing skills
  16. Expectations Management at all levels
  17. (You can add more depending on your organization’s context)

Two critical points:

  • Include a lot of real-life examples/stories for each of the above to make it interesting. To complement this effort, give them the URL’s of some of the best leadership blogs out there. Share other useful resources like free presentations, eBooks, podcasts and videos that would help them get into a leadership mindset.
  • To ensure that this training translates into meaningful actions, it is crucial to have a ‘leadership development program’ that continuously organizes trainings, inducts new people/aspiring leaders, conduct brainstorming and discussion sessions, seek feedbacks from people periodically to maintain the momentum and mature over a period of time.

I wrote in my book #QUALITYtweet that middle managers are the glue that joins the strategies at the top with actions at the bottom. Induction training like these are a small investment that go a long way in setting the precedence and ensuring that you find right channels to effectively transfer your strategy/values to all layers within the organization. It has a direct impact on overall employee morale’ and your effectiveness as an organization.

Have a Fantastic Friday!

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Download your copy of the 25 Things Managers and Leaders Should Never Do [PDF]. Read it, share it with your friends, or with anyone who is an aspiring leader.

Explore more articles tagged under “Leadership” at QAspire Blog.

5 Ideas To Ensure That Trainings Effectively Deliver Value

I heard this statement a few years back from one of my colleagues – “Training is a waste of time, people just don’t engage.” This statement sparked some intense debate that shaped my own thoughts on training. (I wrote earlier about taking a holistic view of training).

To ensure that employee training is NOT a waste of everybody’s time, training managers, HR folks, business leaders and trainers should consider the following:

  1. Align training to business goals: Training is a tool to generate better business results (better delivery, shorter delivery cycle, improved productivity etc.) through new skills. Making business goals explicitly clear to all before training always helps. What do you want this training to do?
  2. Don’t just impart instructions: Training is not about imparting instructions and having great set of slides. Training is about co-relating, exercising, enabling/stimulating thinking and changing the behavior of people. Remember, you are “teaching” human beings, not “programming” machines through instructions.
  3. Have right trainers: A trainer is not someone who is merely good at presenting. Trainer should be super-passionate about the subject matter, have deep expertise, understanding of how humans learn and most importantly, have a vision. Having hands-on experience is a must. When you have not done it yourself, you cannot train others effectively (because you cannot relate the “concepts” with “nuts-and-bolts” of the work). Trainers are leaders.
  4. Let them practice: People learn the most while “doing”. Make sure that your training program is not an overdose of theoretical concepts by having hands-on practicing sessions at regular intervals. Better yet, avoid having a continuous training session. Train in bursts – short and focused. Let them go back to their work and apply the lessons. Makes sense?
  5. Training SERVES trainees: Trainees are the customers of training process – it is about making “them” better. Focus should be on the trainees. As a trainer, it is easy to avoid questions and skip the detailing. But does that help? Consider every question as an opportunity to elaborate, relate and make meaning. Treat them well.

Training is an opportunity – to add value, to deliver an experience and to make a difference. How you use this opportunity makes all the difference!

P.S: Carnival of Leadership Development featuring my post “Building a Culture to Promote Differential Thinking” is up at Maximizing Possibility blog. If you are a leader at any level (or the one aspiring to be a leader), this compilation of 34 excellent posts will surely add a lot of value to your work. Go, check it out!

Also: Follow me on Twitter or visit QAspire Blog’s Facebook Page. Join in the conversation!

Training and Development – A Holistic View

In manufacturing world, improving quality of raw material was the first step to improve quality of final product. Then came manufacturing process and efficiency of assembly lines.

Ditto with knowledge world, except that raw material here is not plastic beans, but a knowledge worker’s brain. Consider that with range of other softer aspects like motivation, creativity, commitment, alignment, ability, personal preferences and general human behaviors, the equation gets even more complex.

Apart from mentoring and managing people, training plays a direct and important role in improving quality. Most organizations have a limited view on training as a means of “delivering” knowledge from the trainer to trainees. Trainings are least effective when they are “one-way” affairs. In my view, people learn the most when they are involved in stimulating conversations, when their thinking is ignited by right questions and when they are a part of defining something.

Does your training strategy also include the following (a few ideas)?

  • Managers coaching people (and learning themselves in the process)
  • Tapping passion of your people by aligning trainings with their core skills.
  • Building internal focus groups and periodic discussions that promote stimulating conversations.
  • Self learning, sharing through blogs, sites and other free resources (Good news is that now, a lot of great learning is FREE – here is just one example. Okay, here is another.)
  • Internal assimilation of organizational knowledge in form of portals. Key is to ensure participation. (Some companies in India even attach participation with employee performance)
  • Identify training needs from people’s aspirations, their performance and feedbacks from projects.
  • Extend training from core technology to address topics like management, leadership, quality consciousness, cultural alignment and personal effectiveness.
  • Design training program that helps people in thinking differently and innovating better ways to work.

The basic outcome of training is improvement in knowledge content of people. But, it just starts there. The broader goal of training is to establish knowledge, spread ideas, align people and induce behavioral change in organization. Training should help people grow – not just the content in their brains, but they as individuals.

It is important to take a holistic view on training within your organization. You have to choose between treating training as an ‘activity’ or as a ‘strategic initiative’.

I wish you a great start into the week.

Build Strong Teams by Turning Your Managers Into Trainers

Here is one idea that can dramatically strengthen your organizational fabric. Ask everyone in manager or lead positions to spend at least a couple of hours each month training others (preferably their teams). They decide the topic (mostly one that is their primary skill area, processes, methodologies, soft skills or whatever) and deliver a talk once in a while.

Few benefits:

  • Your managers/leads seek out to learn stuff they can share.
  • They will get better at thinking, presentation and public speaking.
  • They will share their wisdom and help people understand unique perspectives.
  • Teams start respecting managers for their knowledge and value they deliver.

First, do it for three months. Keep a note of attendance and measure the effort spent – the ROI of this effort should be well worth it, for it builds strong connections between people.

Trainings are most effective when they are kept light weight. What’s more – it builds a constantly learning culture.

Try it out!

8 Lessons I Learned on Being an Effective Mentor

Today, I have been reading and thinking about importance of ‘workplace mentoring’ in building great teams that deliver results. I chose the term ‘workplace mentoring’ because I am writing this from a business context.

To me, simple definition of workplace mentoring is – “An act of coaching/counseling with an intent of improving people, their performance, effectiveness and outcomes”. Since workplace mentoring involves one to one human exchange of values, the line between workplace and personal mentoring is often diminished over a period of time.

What do mentors typically do?

  • Mentors elevate human potential and hence performance.
  • Mentors open up a world of possibilities for people being mentored.
  • Mentors generously ‘give’ – their time, knowledge and resources.

What I have learned about effective workplace mentoring?

  • Effective mentoring is an art and the process of mentoring starts when the value starts flowing from one human (mentor) to another.
  • Building trust is at the core of being a good mentor. The ideas and thoughts of a mentor will never will completely received unless there is a strong trust that mentor is here to help. To make things better.
  • Mentoring is a human activity. Some level of planning helps, but too much of it kills the purpose of mentoring. Let it remain an ‘art’.
  • Mentoring is seldom a formal activity. It happens informally over a cup of coffee, in a one-on-one meeting, at the water cooler, in the canteen and sometimes at the desk of the person being mentored.
  • Mentoring is about transferring benefits of your wisdom by telling meaningful stories, building context and generously sharing knowledge. It is as much about ‘listening’ as it is about ‘telling’. Mentors are people person – they love people and strongly believe in channelizing human potential. They believe in people.
  • That brings me to the ‘generosity’ element. A mentor is generous with his time, resources and knowledge. An effective mentor generously ‘gives’, and hence ‘serves’.
  • Mentoring is a ‘mutual’ game. People follow a mentor by choice – one that is driven by who the mentor is, what value he can deliver and how can it help them in being better. ‘Assigning’ a mentor to someone does not help unless they know their mentor as a person (and their influence).
  • From organization’s point of view, mentoring has to be a top-down initiative. Skill and experience to effectively mentor others should be a primary requirement for job at a leadership position.  A leader’s job is two-fold – drive business results and grow capacities of people while doing that. Mentoring skills are a must to achieve the latter.

Personally for me, mentoring others has been a selfish activity – because it helped me become more people oriented, more social and more thoughtful. Sometimes, spending those unscheduled 20 minutes with a team member over a cup of coffee can be a great energizer.

Have a great week ahead!