In a 2017 issue of The Leadership Quarterly, Michael Mumford and associates focus on problem-solving skills critical to leader performance. In an article rich in ideas and information they argued that effective “real world” leadership occurs in situations where the leader has knowledge, experience, and creativity nurtured through experience. Effective leaders may have seen it before, seen similar, and have mental maps that help them work through problem resolutions. They also have the abilities to see potential problems, alternative solutions, and can evaluate potential consequences. Mumford et al. identified nine cognitive skills critical to effective leader performance. Here are the nine skills. For each I have posed a question for leaders based on my reading.
- Identifying and defining problems.
- Analyzing causes and goals to address problem.
- Identifying constraints on solutions.
- Formulating realistic plans.
- Forecasting specific outcomes from plan execution
- Formulating solutions to pitfalls foreseen and not foreseen
- Evaluating alternative ways to implement plan.
- Evaluating alternatives in context of situation.
- Visioning and sensemaking in communicating with followers.
Mumford and associates suggested that these cognitive skills critical to effective leadership can be improved by training programs and other organizational development interventions. Additionally they may provide the foundation for new methods to assess leadership potential.
1. This contribution of Mumford, Todd, Higgs, and McIntosh is significant. While there is little we can do to effect adult intelligence (and intelligence is correlated positively with leaders), there is much we can do to effect development of these cognitive tasks.
2. While leaders with these cognitive skills may be desirable, a leader may not need to possess each skill. Effective leaders should know their strengths and weaknesses. Leaders should engage their groups and teams in all of these areas. Identifying these skills in others and letting them contribute help make effective leaders.
3. For me this article underscores the importance of active learning. Do we provide opportunities for experiences where people can learn through the experiences? Do we discuss “lessons learned” afterwards and guide development of mental models, that is how to handle different situations? In our busy day-to-day workplaces, do we as leaders find the time, make the time, to develop others?
Mumford, M. D., Todd, E. M., Higgs, C., & McIntosh, T. (2017). Cognitive skills and leadership performance: The nine critical skills. The Leadership Quarterly, 28, 24-39.
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© John Ballard, PhD, 2017. All rights reserved.
Author of Decoding the Workplace, BEST CAREER BOOK Next Generation Indie Book Awards.