Many a time top executives in high-flying organisations are faced with situations requiring them to make a critical call. Such demands require these executives to be endowed with strategic decision making prowess or skills.
Unfortunately many in these positions come from an educational background which never exposed them to the rigours of strategic decision making skills.
Many of our institutions of higher learning do not provide a component in their courses that exposes students to practical strategic thinking processes.
Strategic decision making and critical thinking are two very important concepts with very special meaning in every executive endeavour
Professor Vikal Mittal, head of the Energy Initiative at the Jones School, clarifies these specific meanings, saying, “Strategic decision making is the process where people, instead of getting bogged down with the problem-solving aspects of a decision, actually pay attention to the strategic process.”
The question that arises is how can one attain or acquire this higher level of cognitive thinking which is so vital for strategic decision making at company-wide level?
We get more insights in “Professor Mittal’s continued explanation where he says in this endeavour they ask questions about engaging the right people, developing the right relationships, keeping personal bias out of the decision process, and managing cognitive and emotional conflict. Critical thinking is the art of being able to evaluate an issue non-judgmentally — thinking about an issue from all perspectives, evaluating different alternatives without getting wedded to any particular alternative.”
So, why our Master of Business Administration courses, for instance, should integrate this aspect in their course offering — it is needed for enabling students to become strategic decision makers and critical thinkers. Some might question “Do not these skills automatically come through the basic MBA curriculum?”
As easy as it seems, both skills are difficult, subtle, and involve rigorous thinking and adaptability in perspectives and behaviours. To inculcate these skills, Professor Mittal developed the concept of an Integrated Course Offering (ICO).
This course brings together a multi-disciplinary approach to the topic including finance and econometrics; decision making and psychology; game theory and operations management; and psychology and social psychology.
Leading scholars in these areas, Professors Pazgal (2008), Butler (2011 and 2012) and Mittal (2009 and 2015) each won the prestigious Jones School Award for Excellence in Research.
Professor Mittal won the 2012 and 2015 MBA for Professionals Weekend Award for Teaching Excellence.
Similarly, professors Mittal, Pazgal and Smith have taught extensively in Rice’s executive education programme for companies such as: National Oilwell Varco, Shell, BP, Chicago Bridge & Iron and Cameron.
All four of these professors are quite different and yet very complementary of each other in terms of approach and world views.
This is by far the most useful course for students persuing management and leadership programmes. Its utility is quite evident, and quite vital for those of us who are still naïve in the world of executive decision making.
A lot in industry are facing a looming shortage of executive talent as growing numbers of CEOs and other C-suite executives retire, forcing companies to confront the lack of experience in their ranks.
What is a reliable way to build a more substantial knowledge base?
What’s the next step?
The next step is to consider a programme that inculcates critical thinking and strategic decision making.
It enables participants in the management programme to discover themselves in a way they have never experienced before.
Self-awareness and reflection
One of the interesting things that this programme must stress is to do with internal biases that a lot of people carry. It helps a lot to be more aware of their thinking patterns — we all tend to think in a certain way or react in a certain manner when faced with situations.
The programme should help you take a step back, pause and try to understand how other people might interpret similar situations. For emerging leaders, a theoretical understanding of psychological biases, personality, group processes, provides the mechanism for effective and critical self-analysis, which is a pathway for continuous self-improvement.
By reflecting on themselves and their surroundings, participants start to understand their personal biases, their relationships and the shortcomings of the intense technical focus they espouse.
It also focusses on relating to others, laterally and vertically, and how crucial that is to becoming a successful leader of decision-making teams — both the quality of the decisions and the level of engagement and commitment to team decisions.
The programme further focusses on helping participants to better understand issues related to change management.
Using a simulation, participants put into practice their learning and reflect of their experiences as human beings, managers and leaders.
Mandeya is an executive coach, trainer in human capital development and corporate education, a certified leadership and professional development practitioner and founder of the Leadership Institute for Research and Development (LiRD). — firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or +263 772 466 925.