Proficiency in critical thinking is considered by many authorities to be a major goal of higher education. It’s often taken as an indicator of intelligence. And the practice of critical thinking is emphasized — for good reason — in numerous professions.
Lots of very intelligent people are quite adept at finding flaws in reasoning or points of view or proposed strategies. These sorts of contributions add value by improving the quality of our thinking about the topic of discussion. But too often people who find such faults just stop there. That’s not the behavior of a leader. That’s the behavior of a critic.
Every course of action has drawbacks as well as benefits. Every strategy involves risk. It’s a package deal. Critical thinking enables us to improve our understanding of the implications of alternative strategies. Leaders value this activity. But leaders are not content merely to think critically. Leaders take action. They do something. They make things happen.
I’ve quoted Teddy Roosevelt before, but it’s worth repeating here:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
If you want to be more of a leader, don’t be merely a critic. Take action to make your organization more effective at pursuing its mission. Find something to work on and move out.