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Transferring Ownership and Critical Thinking as a Leader

Tim and Junior dive into the critical leadership skills of accountability and critical thinking. They discuss why these competencies are important, explain the vital interrelationship between accountability and critical thinking, and share thoughts on how we can effectively build these skills in ourselves while also transferring them to others.

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Episode Show Notes

In this episode of the podcast, Tim and Junior dive into the critical leadership skills of accountability and critical thinking. They discuss why these competencies are important for leaders and team members to develop, define what accountability and critical thinking mean, explain the vital interrelationship between accountability and critical thinking, and share thoughts on how we can effectively build these skills in ourselves while also transferring them to others. Tim and Junior emphasize that these are practical skill-building concepts that align with the four stages of psychological safety.

5 Key Points:
  1. Accountability is being answerable for your behavior and actions (0:03:08). It's about taking ownership, being proactive and transparent, and being willing to learn from mistakes.
  2. Critical thinking involves gathering and synthesizing information to inform your beliefs and behaviors (0:03:39). It's about evaluating information objectively to make sound judgments and decisions.
  3. Accountability and critical thinking are interrelated - you need critical thinking to properly evaluate your performance and take full accountability (0:09:47).
  4. As leaders, we must model accountability and critical thinking ourselves first before expecting it from others (0:34:13). We have to hold ourselves to high standards of performance and evaluation.
  5. To transfer critical thinking, use open-ended questions, invite participation in solving problems, teach the inquiry process, and model critical thinking in your own work (0:25:51).
Show notes:
3 Levels of Accountability Episode:

Episode Transcript


0:00:02.4 Freddy: Welcome back, Culture by Design listeners. It's Freddy, one of the producers of the podcast. In today's episode, Tim and Junior or dive into two critical leadership skills, accountability and critical thinking.

0:00:14.0 Freddy: In this episode, they'll discuss why these competencies are so important for both leaders and team members. They'll define accountability and critical thinking, explain their vital inter-relationship, and share thoughts on how we can develop these skills in ourselves while also effectively transferring them to others.

0:00:34.9 Freddy: This is a practical skill building episode, and if you're a fan of the four stages of psychological safety, this episode aligns really well with contributor safety, where the transfer of accountability and critical thinking unlocks the ability for others to contribute meaningfully by doing their best work.

0:00:55.4 Freddy: As always, you can find this episode's show notes at Thanks again for listening and thank you for your reviews. Enjoy today's episode on Accountability and Critical Thinking.


0:01:13.3 Junior: Welcome back, everyone, to Culture by Design. My name's Junior. I'm here with my co-host, Dr. Tim Clark, and today we'll be discussing one of the most critical leadership skills. And stay tuned because we'll be asking a few questions to see how you're doing.

0:01:27.9 Junior: Tim, how are you?

0:01:28.6 Tim: Doing great, Junior. How are you doing today?

0:01:31.4 Junior: Doing very well. Excited for today's conversation. There's a lot of good stuff in here. A lot of notes. A lot of prep. And so I'm excited to dive in.

0:01:39.9 Junior: So accountability, critical thinking. What are those two things? What's their relationship? How do they work? And the ultimate question, how do we effectively transfer those two things to our people?

0:01:54.6 Junior: We're gonna answer those questions, as well as one that in my mind is ultimately important, how can we assume accountability and critically think ourselves? Tim, you had a CEO once tell you that this was something fairly important to him, didn't you?

0:02:08.7 Tim: Yeah, I had a conversation with a Fortune 500 CEO. He said, "Of all the skills and competencies and abilities that I need in our people," he said, "critical thinking is number one." He said, "I think that's the most efficient skill or capability that I see across the organization."

0:02:30.5 Tim: And that really stuck with me, obviously, because I'm sharing that. You think about all the different skills you could talk about or identify, but that was number one on his list. And so that gives us an indication of how important it is.

0:02:45.8 Junior: It's a weighty comment, especially coming from someone with that perspective. So let's start with some terms, some definitions. We like to do this.

0:02:55.0 Junior: Accountability. Being answerable for your behavior, a willingness to take ownership of your actions. It's about being proactive, transparent. It's about being willing to learn from your mistakes.

0:03:08.0 Junior: And there's a difference between accountability and responsibility. Responsibility is just the assignment of a task or a duty. Accountability is the expectation that you'll fulfill your responsibility.

0:03:22.3 Junior: So it's a level up, and I thought that that distinction was appropriate as we go into today's conversation. So that's accountability.

0:03:29.4 Junior: Critical thinking is gathering and synthesizing information to then inform your beliefs and your behavior. So Tim, tell us more about critical thinking?

0:03:39.1 Tim: Well, critical thinking is based on the premise that you should do your own thinking. That's the entire premise for this skill or competency. And we'll talk about how it's related to accountability.

0:03:50.0 Tim: But the premise again is you need to do your own thinking. Okay. Well, you could say that to someone and they would nod their heads and say, "Yeah, that sounds right. I think we should all do our own thinking." Okay, but what does that mean?

0:04:05.4 Tim: So we can break it down. It means a lot. It's a skill that I would say most people... I don't know if people are born with it, I don't think so, but you can certainly develop it, that's for sure.

0:04:19.1 Tim: So let me break it down into some component parts. So it's the ability to evaluate information critically, draw logical conclusions, inferences, and make objective judgments. That's one way to say it. It measures a person's ability to separate relevant from irrelevant information and then make decisions based on that.

0:04:45.6 Tim: It also includes the ability to define issues accurately, get to the heart of the problem, quickly identifying the central or underlying issues in a complex situation, taking all important issues into account when making decisions, anticipating problems and recognizing opportunities, noticing discrepancies and inconsistencies in available information. Ever thought about that?

0:05:15.1 Tim: Creatively integrating different ideas and perspectives, applying broad knowledge and seasoned experience to address critical issues. Defining issues clearly, despite incomplete or ambiguous information, digging deep to get the necessary information for decision-making. You know you don't have enough, you gotta go get more.

0:05:41.8 Tim: Linking problems and symptoms to identify underlying issues. Creatively integrating different ideas and perspectives. Taking all important issues into account when making decisions.

0:05:54.6 Tim: That's a lot. That's 16 elements that we could say are part of critical thinking. Now, I'm not even done, Junior. It involves the systems thinking. Do you wanna talk about systems thinking, Junior?

0:06:09.7 Junior: Sure. So systems thinking is the ability to see a complex, a dynamic system, holistically. To recognize patterns, to think through the consequences of a bunch of different courses of action. It's about anticipating consequences.

0:06:25.3 Junior: So that's a lot of information. Let's simplify. Why are these two things important? We have accountability. We have critical thinking. Accountability is the ability to get things done. Things need to get done. Number two, critical thinking, things need to get done properly.

0:06:44.0 Junior: So that's what it comes down to. We need to do those two things ourselves, we need to get things done, and we need to do them well. And we need to help other people get things done and do them well.

0:06:53.6 Junior: And so when we boil it all down, those are probably the two takeaways to set up the premise of the argument that we're going to make today. Things need to get done, they need to get done properly.

0:07:03.8 Junior: But you also talk about competitive advantage playing into critical thinking. Tell me more about that?

0:07:10.6 Tim: It's just an acknowledgement of the environment that we're in. So you just explained why we need accountability and why we need critical thinking. Okay, but let's put it into context.

0:07:25.4 Tim: The context is that, especially in an organizational setting, you're trying to achieve competitive advantage. Well, there's nothing permanent about that. There's nothing permanent about competitive advantage. We know by definition that we have to learn and get better and perform better, and it's this continuous process.

0:07:48.3 Tim: So everything about the nature of competitive advantage says that you have to improve both critical thinking and accountability to continue to get better. So the context really matters.

0:08:01.3 Tim: Rita McGrath at Columbia, she talks about transient competitive advantage. In other words, it doesn't last. It's melting. And she says that sustainable competitive advantage, that's a term that we sometimes use, sustainable competitive advantage is the exception.

0:08:19.1 Tim: That's not the rule, it's the exception. Most of us don't have that. So we've gotta go try to get some competitive advantage and then it probably won't last that long, and then we do it again.

0:08:31.3 Tim: So in that context, it just helps us understand how important accountability is in critical thinking. Does that make sense, Junior?

0:08:39.5 Junior: So tell us about the individual? As a leader, we wanna transfer these two things, but how does it relate to the person we're transferring it to, or ourselves if we're in that position?

0:08:51.4 Tim: Think of it this way, how can you be accountable if you can't critically assess your own work. You can't evaluate your own work. Another way to look at it is to say that accountability means you own your own performance. It implies that you're going to keep improving, keep getting better.

0:09:10.3 Tim: Well, let's say you're anxious to take accountability for your own behavior and your own performance, but you want someone to tell you what to do. Talk through the details, the implications, correct you when you get it wrong. Coach you along the way. Is there a problem with that?

0:09:28.9 Tim: Yes, there's a problem with that. There's a big problem with that. The problem is dependency. So actually you're not taking full accountability. Isn't this interesting? You cannot take full accountability for yourself unless you bring in critical thinking.

0:09:47.1 Tim: So full accountability includes the performance, your performance, and your evaluation of your performance. So it's not just the performance, but it's the evaluation of the performance, right?

0:09:58.6 Tim: So that's just the first half. What happens to an employee that doesn't learn to evaluate their own performance? They don't progress. So to successfully evaluate your own performance, it requires that you develop critical thinking skills. About what?

0:10:17.5 Tim: About your role, about your tasks, about how your role fits into context, about how you add value, about how well you're doing. All of these things.

0:10:29.6 Tim: So critical thinking skills, when developed, allow an employee to think even far beyond their role. And that's ultimately where we've gotta get to. Can you see why a leader would want every member of the team to be able to take accountability and exercise well-developed critical skills?

0:10:52.4 Tim: The leader needs every person to be a doer and a thinker about what they're doing. So that's how critical thinking and accountability fit together. In fact, they... At some point, they bleed into each other. That's what I would say.

0:11:05.9 Junior: You certainly need both. So why is this important? We go back to, we need to get more things done, and we need to get more things done well. And the reason that this relates to leadership is because our contribution is indirect. We contribute through others.

0:11:24.1 Junior: And to become a more effective leader, we need better leverage. The same in, more out. So if we can transfer these things that Tim's talking about, ownership, critical thinking, we'll be able to get more things done properly. And not least, we'll be able to develop the individuality and the competence of our people.

0:11:43.7 Junior: And that's a point that I think is often glossed over. Because if we breed dependence, then that's bad for business, but it's also bad for the person.

0:11:56.6 Junior: And many leaders wanna keep both. They wanna keep them close to the chest. They wanna feel useful, they wanna feel needed. And at a glance, it might seem harmless, but it imposes a very short short ceiling on the team. Because the consequences don't end with just the leader.

0:12:14.9 Junior: So Tim, you're saying that they have personal incentives that work against both of those things. What are those? Why would we not want to do this?

0:12:23.3 Tim: It's easier not to take responsibility. It's easier not to develop critical thinking skills. Those things take effort. They take effort. Accountability takes effort.

0:12:33.1 Tim: You have to hold yourself accountable, you have to exert yourself mentally and intellectually to develop critical thinking skills. So there's a set of incentives that work against developing these two things.

0:12:47.5 Junior: But as a leader, why would I not wanna transfer ownership in critical thinking? What incentive exists at the level of the leader that would prevent me from doing that?

0:12:58.3 Tim: You want the credit, you want control, and you wanna maintain those things. And so it could be that you're ego invested and you don't fully comprehend your role as a leader, and so for example, you are micromanaging your people, you are deliberately creating dependency with your people.

0:13:23.8 Tim: And you like it that way. You wanna maintain this perch that you have in the organization where people are dependent upon you. A lot of people wanna keep it that way. They like that.

0:13:36.2 Tim: They like the praise, the adulation, the recognition, the benefits, the perks that come with that. So let's keep these relationships of dependency in place. And by the way, I'll do the thinking for you. Okay? Thank you very much.

0:13:53.9 Tim: Because when I get to do that, I get to give you the answer and that feels good and it strokes my ego. So yeah, there are some personal incentives at work here.

0:14:02.2 Junior: So let's say that we cave into those personal incentives. We don't transfer ownership, we don't transfer critical thinking, and we try to keep all of the answers with us. What are we now responsible for?

0:14:13.4 Junior: I said that it's bad for business, and speaking to Rita McGrath, we will not maintain our competitive advantage if we think that we as the leader have all of the answers. And we know that that's true, because where does that leave us?

0:14:28.5 Junior: It leaves us with one perspective. It leaves us with an echo chamber. And we will not have divergent thinking, we won't have divergent ideas, and even if we do, they won't be voiced.

0:14:39.9 Junior: So what are we responsible for, past being bad for business? We're now responsible for the under-development and the under achievement of our people.

0:14:50.3 Junior: Now, what's the aim of a business? Certainly it's profits, but at what expense? We know from Stage 3 contributor safety, that contribution is a fundamental human need. And if we take that away, what are we doing? We're taking away a fundamental human need of our people.

0:15:11.4 Junior: And it's ironic because we think that if we hold on to that critical thinking and we keep the ownership in one place, that we'll be able to be more effective because we have complete control, but you can see the amount of ego that that line of thinking requires, and that's dangerous. And the irony is that it's bad for business at the end of the day.

0:15:36.9 Junior: And so if we truly want what's best for business, if we truly want more profits, we need to pay attention to the people in front of us. And we need to allow them to contribute in the way that they were meant to contribute. And in the way that they need to contribute in order to feel fulfillment.

0:15:56.6 Junior: And not in some weird ethereal way, in a really fundamental human way. We know from all of the data that we've collected over years that this is truly a fundamental human need. You can't as a human show up, not contribute, and be fundamentally satisfied.

0:16:11.3 Tim: Well, Junior, what I hear you saying is, I hear you bringing a moral argument to the table along with the economic argument. The economic argument is the shareholder theory of the firm, which says you're here to add value and provide shareholder value and a reasonable return on assets.

0:16:35.8 Tim: Okay, that's great. That's the economic argument. And that's not wrong, but it's not complete. So we add a moral argument which says, you have a moral obligation to develop the human capital that is under your charge.

0:16:52.1 Tim: And to your point, there is a need for people to make a meaningful contribution, to have an appropriate level of autonomy so that they can make that contribution.

0:17:04.1 Tim: And that is not at odds with the economic argument, but it needs to be added to that economic argument. And if you don't have both in sight, then you may be... You may be very short-sighted as a leader or a manager in the way you do your job.

0:17:20.1 Junior: I'm saying something even more, which is that the moral argument supersedes the economic argument. And if you make the moral argument and you fulfill the morality of your responsibility, the economics take care of themselves.

0:17:39.9 Junior: But here's the key. If you're talking about sustainable competitive advantage, you need to define a time horizon. Because let's say that we need to perform on the quarter, then we throw morality out the window, we tighten the screws of the business, we disregard to the humans and we make our number.

0:17:56.0 Junior: And some would say, "Well, that's the economic argument." Yeah, it is for the quarter, but if you want your organization to be around for 30 quarters or 100 quarters or 500 quarters, you're not gonna be able to do that for very long. You can get away with it for one or two quarters, but you can't over a long enough time horizon.

0:18:15.5 Junior: So if you're economically-minded and you're bottom line driven, the moral argument still wins to accomplish those goals if you're talking about sustainability.

0:18:27.8 Junior: So that's what I think is really interesting about this particular topic. And what I become more and more convinced of as a strategist over time, as we work with organizations, that the moral argument and the human argument takes care of the economics if you develop the competence alongside.

0:18:47.2 Junior: Obviously you need skills, obviously you need strategy, but that's where the critical thinking comes into play. And so we'll talk a little bit more about this toward the end of the episode, but it's incumbent upon each of us to look at the moral argument and combat it, we have to come to terms with it.

0:19:01.8 Junior: And we can either look at it, confront it head on and make the right choice, or we can disregard it in an effort to perform in the short term, but to the detriment of the business down the road.

0:19:16.3 Tim: It's a strong argument. Let me throw you a curveball, Junior. You ready for a curveball question? What do you think about these venture-backed firms that over-hire a bunch of people? They're not making any money, there's no positive cash flow, but they've got a stash of cash, they've raised money. They over-hire and they're just burning.

0:19:43.3 Tim: And then it didn't go well. And then everybody has to go. And we've seen that over and over again. You and I have talked about this, because we see examples around us of this happening.

0:19:55.3 Tim: Obviously that's not good, but how would you interpret that?

0:19:58.0 Junior: Well, here's my hot take. And it's not really a hot take if you look at it closely. Venture money is not incentivized to build healthy businesses. That's the hot take.

0:20:09.0 Junior: Venture money is incentivized to create a healthy enough business for a long enough time to get at least a 10X return. That's the incentive of the money. And so what does that mean for the long-term?

0:20:26.4 Tim: You're saying that's the intent behind that money?

0:20:28.7 Junior: Oh yeah. Otherwise...

0:20:30.0 Tim: And the people that have that money and the people that invest that money, that's their intent?

0:20:34.9 Junior: Yeah, of course that's their intent. Why else would we be doing this? Not least because they're not gonna be around in 100 years to get the check. So we don't want our check in 100 years, we want our check in five years. And so what do we do?

0:20:50.6 Tim: And maybe no longer.

0:20:52.1 Junior: Yeah.

0:20:53.3 Tim: Maybe not six.

0:20:53.6 Junior: Oh yeah, absolutely. And so what do we do? We optimize for that outcome. And that should not be mysterious to people. We look at the incentive structure and we say, "Okay. Naturally. Of course. This is going to be the way that we operate because it's the incentive structure that we're using when we're going in." And so that can become very dangerous.

0:21:15.0 Junior: Now, this is not supposed to be the critique of private equity or angel or none of that, that's not the point. The point is be very wary of the incentives.

0:21:30.5 Junior: And so if you go in and you say, "Well, my incentive is to exit in three years," that means certain things. And the power of those incentives will often override whatever long-term morality we would think we would like to have. [chuckle]

0:21:45.4 Junior: And so we have to pay very close attention. We have to pay very close attention.

0:21:49.6 Tim: I think it even goes beyond incentives, Junior, where it's just sloppy and it gets reckless. And we've gone too far. Even with an economic argument, we're creating unintended consequences that we just can't justify even with an economic argument.

0:22:13.9 Tim: So I think we have to maintain good stewardship regardless of what we're doing.

0:22:20.3 Junior: We do. That's why bootstrapping is cool. But it's a conversation for another day.


0:22:24.5 Junior: Okay. So, most leaders are not taught formally how and why to transfer accountability. And we've talked about this before. We promote the high-performing individual contributor, we put them into a leadership role and we say, "Go get 'em." And that's it. And some of 'em figure it out, many don't.

0:22:46.6 Junior: So how do we deal with this? How do we actually transfer ownership? We've talked about the three levels of accountability, task, project process, and outcome. And this is the model we need to follow in order to effectively transfer ownership.

0:23:02.9 Junior: So we'll put a link in the show notes to an episode that we did a while back about these three levels of accountability, that will shed some light on the idea and the model, but we always start at the level of the task.

0:23:15.0 Junior: And a task has a clear set of requirements, and it often has a clear set instructions too. There's a clear start, there's a clear middle, there's a clear finish.

0:23:25.4 Junior: So think about onboarding someone into a new role. Are you immediately going to give them an outcome and make them responsible for that outcome?

0:23:35.3 Junior: Probably not. You're probably going to start them at the level of the task, "You need to do this, this, this, and this," and then maybe there's a process that they become responsible for once they master the task, and now to outcome.

0:23:46.8 Junior: So I think about onboarding in our team. Recently, we've had some new hires. We don't bring them in, give them tons of autonomy and say, "Hey, go just figure it out." We start with small little pieces.

0:24:02.5 Junior: The frequency is really high. We're back and forth, we're checking in, we're there alongside. And then slowly that distance increases, the autonomy goes up as we move them to outcome level accountability. But I would say, how do we transfer?

0:24:17.0 Junior: Be cognizant of those first two steps, but also be willing to move to outcome. Because there are two failure patterns that I see as the dominant failure patterns in ownership transfer.

0:24:28.4 Junior: The first, is that we immediately start at outcome. We expect too much, we don't give context, we don't give appropriate resource or whatever the case may be, but we still try to hold them accountable at the level of the outcome.

0:24:41.4 Junior: And it may be because we don't wanna spend the time to do the onboarding, we don't wanna spend the time to give the context or give the energy required to get people up to speed. That's failure pattern number one.

0:24:53.4 Junior: Failure pattern number two is that we're too good at task and project, and we never move people to outcome. We keep them at task and project because we want our hands on the issue, we wanna have all of the answers, we need to feel needed. And so those are the two.

0:25:09.8 Junior: And we need to be cognizant of those failure patterns so that we can avoid them. We wanna start a task, move people appropriately all the way through to outcome. Over time.

0:25:17.8 Tim: No, I agree with that, Junior. And so we see the positive relationship between accountability and autonomy. Those things go hand-in-hand. If you're giving more autonomy, there should be a demonstration of accountability to go with it. If the autonomy gets ahead of the accountability, we got a problem. A big problem.

0:25:39.1 Junior: We do. So that's ownership. How do we transfer critical thinking? We'll spend a little bit of time here. The first that I think is very fundamental is open-ended questions, "how?" and "why?".

0:25:51.7 Junior: If you come to a situation with open-ended questions, you'll have a much better time at transferring critical thinking, Why? Because you are now placing the burden of the thinking on the person in front of you. "Hey, what do you think would happen if we did this? Why do you think this is the way that it is? How might we do this differently?"

0:26:14.6 Junior: Do you see what I'm doing? I'm not giving answers, I'm inviting participation. And I'm not inviting participation in the form of a one-word answer, I'm inviting participation in the form of real thinking.

0:26:25.9 Junior: You can't answer the question that I just asked you without thinking critically. And as you do that and incorporate that as a pattern with your people, they'll become more effective at doing it, they'll become more used to doing it, and they'll develop some independence. So that's what we're going after.

0:26:43.9 Junior: The second is to invite participation. If we don't invite participation, then we're not going to get participation. We can't just wait for people to come to us with questions and answers and all of the things that they might do to solve a problem. We need to invite the participation.

0:27:00.6 Junior: Now, the next one is interesting, and Tim, I wonder if you could go into this for a second. Inquiry versus advocacy. What's the difference between these two things? And what does it have to do with transferring critical thinking?

0:27:11.6 Tim: Well, if you think about what we do as we work together and as we interact every day, we're typically doing one of these two things. We're in inquiry mode, which means that we're asking questions and we're learning and we're analyzing. Or we're in advocacy mode, where we're advocating a point of view or a course of action or a decision.

0:27:32.5 Tim: Advocacy implies that you've come to a conclusion. You know what your point of view is. You know what your opinion is. You've done your analysis. You've done your inquiry. So advocacy follows inquiry.

0:27:49.4 Tim: The problem is that we are trying to create and build and nurture critical thinking skills in our people. And so if you as the leader are advocating, what does it do to your people?

0:28:05.8 Tim: If you're the leader, if you're the team leader, and you're in advocacy mode, then you're putting them into a passive position. Chances are, they're saying, "Oh well, the boss knows what they want, and so discussion over. Okay, I'll wait 'til you tell me what to do."

0:28:25.2 Tim: So we have to be very careful as leaders to spend as much time as possible in inquiry, not advocacy. This is where you build, help build the critical thinking skills of your people.

0:28:39.0 Junior: So you teach the inquiry process, you model the inquiry process. When an individual learns how to do this on their own and is motivated to do it, this is one of the sure signs that you are transferring critical thinking. So what's that process?

0:28:55.0 Tim: Well, let's give you the mechanics of the basic inquiry process, and we can break it down into five steps. Step one is ask questions. So that catalyzes the process, it sets it into motion. It's step one.

0:29:07.6 Tim: Number two, collect data. So gather the data, whatever kind of data there might be. Step three, recognize patterns. So you data, analyze the data, recognize patterns.

0:29:21.0 Tim: Step four, reach conclusions. So you see the patterns, you're looking for cause and effect, relationships. Reach conclusions. And then step five, make decisions.

0:29:32.7 Tim: That is the basic anatomy of the inquiry process. If you teach that, if you model that, if you invite others into that process, you are accelerating the development of critical thinking skills.

0:29:50.3 Tim: And then furthermore, you start to teach your people about data and different categories of data. For example, in very general terms, we start out with quantitative data, that's the most reliable category. And then we have qualitative data, and then we have anecdotal data, and then we have impressionistic data.

0:30:05.9 Tim: And we could go hours into that, but the point is, is you're teaching your people how to inquire. How to go through the inquiry process. You're teaching them how to use data. Let's just acknowledge that all business decisions are made somewhere short of certainty.

0:30:24.5 Tim: Okay. But we gotta do the best that we can with the data that we have. And so this is what we can do. I don't know anything else that stimulates and accelerate the development of critical thinking more than this.

0:30:37.4 Junior: And you look at the application of these skills. These skills are universally applicable. It doesn't matter what your role is, it doesn't matter where you are in the business, it doesn't matter your geography, doesn't matter industry. All of those things are underneath the ability to ask good questions and work through those steps all the way to making decisions.

0:31:01.7 Junior: If you can do those five steps well, you will be able to make a meaningful contribution anywhere. And these are the skills required to answer any question, not just business. Any question ever.

0:31:18.0 Junior: If there's something on your mind and you wanna get to the bottom of it, what do you do? You ask questions, collect data, recognize patterns, reach conclusions, make decisions. And you do that in concert with other people with different perspectives. And if you do those things well, you're gonna have some pretty good outcomes.

0:31:33.6 Tim: And I would even say, Junior, that this is not restricted to a hierarchical relationship where you have a boss and a subordinate. To transfer accountability or ownership and to transfer critical thinking, I think it also applies to lateral relationships.

0:31:56.3 Tim: I think it applies to pretty much any relationship. Why? Because we want everyone to develop more ownership and more critical thinking skills. So I would say that.

0:32:13.3 Tim: And then the other thing I would say is that we should be applying, for example, critical thinking skills to yourself, to your team, to the entire organization. You should use these skills wherever you are, in whatever context in your own life.

0:32:32.9 Tim: And then your team, the people that you work with every day, and then beyond that as you begin to learn how to think beyond your role and think at a systems level.

0:32:44.9 Tim: So I think it's Howard Gardner, Junior, that makes the distinction as he talks about different forms of intelligence. He talks about laser intelligence, which means that you have deep understanding and knowledge about a narrow field of knowledge, a narrow area. You specialize. Right? That's laser intelligence.

0:33:09.3 Tim: The opposite is searchlight intelligence, where you go broad and you're looking at things broadly. At a systems level you're up in your hot air balloon, you're looking down from the balcony, and you're seeing the big picture.

0:33:27.9 Tim: Well, those are different planes of understanding. Over time, you've got to develop more breadth, more strategic thinking as you grow in understanding. In an organization, you've gotta be able to understand the implications of a course of action, you've gotta be able to understand how your job affects everything else. So the critical thinking has to be directed in a lot of different areas.

0:33:56.3 Junior: The core of the conversation today has been about transferring ownership and transferring critical thinking. I wanna spend the last few minutes talking about ourselves as leaders, taking accountability and thinking critically.

0:34:13.4 Junior: Because if we expect other people to do it, we first have to do it, we have to model it. And if you want your people to take more accountability and to think critically, there is no better way to do that than to model it. To show accountability yourself and to model critical thinking.

0:34:34.6 Junior: So each of us has to graduate from accountability that lives at the level of the system, and that's imposed on us from the outside in, to accountability that lives at the level of you. As an individual, as a person.

0:34:51.7 Junior: And the ultimate goal is to hold ourselves accountable for high levels of performance and to move away from relying on the institution or whoever is above us imposing that accountability.

0:35:05.7 Junior: Now, I've been thinking about this for a little while and I wanna ask the question why and try and unpack this for a second. Why is it that we must hold ourselves accountable?

0:35:16.3 Junior: For me, this might get a little bit abstract, but only the individual knows their own capacity. So to everyone listening, only you know your own capacity. Other people have an idea, some more than others. Those close to you, closer than others. But you are the only person who knows your own capacity.

0:35:37.3 Junior: The organization may hold you accountable at a level that's fine for the organization, but maybe it's beneath your potential. Or alternatively, maybe the organization is asking you to make trade-offs that you're unwilling to make based on your priorities, your responsibilities.

0:35:53.0 Junior: In which case they may attempt to hold you too accountable for whatever their objective is. Working 100 hours may be just fine for the organization, but it may not be good for your life.

0:36:04.5 Junior: And so performance evaluation lives and dies ultimately at the level of the individual, which Tim alluded to for the very same reasons. You can't judge performance perfectly unless you understand potential and context perfectly. And who has a better idea of potential in context than you? No one.

0:36:22.7 Junior: And so all this to say that as leaders, we have to hold ourselves responsible for our own performance, our own critical thinking, and we have to help transfer others performance and critical thinking to them.

0:36:35.7 Junior: So we're all responsible ultimately at the individual level for ourselves. And if we can all do our jobs and help each other as needed, that's how we can achieve truly high-performing teams that are made up of really high-performing individuals.

0:36:51.5 Junior: But we will not have a high-performing team or a high-performing organization if individuals don't hold themselves accountable, and it starts with you as a leader.

0:37:00.0 Junior: What do you think about that, Tim?

0:37:01.0 Tim: I would just put a caveat on that a little bit. Especially when you're young, you do not understand your own potential very well. You may have a glimpse, but you just don't have enough life experience and you don't have enough self-awareness to understand.

0:37:17.4 Tim: And so oft-times when you're young, other people can see more potential in you than you can see in yourself, and sometimes they have more confidence in you than you have in yourself. You have to grow into that.

0:37:31.6 Tim: But to your point, Junior, by the time you're a working professional in an organization, you have to take primary accountability for your potential and for your own growth and development. That is your responsibility. And the organization has a secondary role, a secondary responsibility.

0:37:52.6 Tim: That's why we talk about the concept of education welfare. A lot of employees are on education welfare. They're relying on the machinery of the institution to carry them along, to tell them what to do, to train them, and not least, to do their thinking for them.

0:38:11.9 Tim: What an incredibly dangerous thing to do. Because we know that standing still is career suicide. That's just never gonna be the right thing to do in any context at any time.

0:38:23.5 Tim: So overall, I think you're making a very defensible argument. How can you argue against the fact that you've gotta own that? You've gotta own that forever.

0:38:35.3 Junior: Well, I love the idea of helping others, especially young, realize their own potential. All the more reason to embody these principles and to help transfer the critical thinking and help them see.

0:38:50.8 Junior: Because eventually, you won't be able to sit there and help them see their potential. Eventually you'll be gone and they'll need to do it for themselves. And so if you can get them started and help them along, that's wonderful.

0:39:05.5 Junior: And then help transfer that to them so that they can do it themselves.

0:39:09.4 Tim: Can I give you an example, Junior?

0:39:12.9 Junior: Please.

0:39:13.8 Tim: So we've all gone through this in our lives, and hopefully we've had a friend or a mentor or coach or a neighbor, or a parent or a sibling, someone that gave us a glimpse of our potential that we didn't have.

0:39:27.5 Tim: And that spark or that insight that they gave us, sparked greater motivation to our potential. So that was a critical catalyst to get us going and to motivate us to work harder to excavate our aptitudes and our gifts and our talents, and then get better and develop those things.

0:39:53.4 Tim: So I think we can all think about that. It reminds me of when I was in high school and I took Shakespeare from Mr. Herbert. And the only reason I took the class is because I had a friend that said, "You gotta take this class with me."

0:40:09.8 Tim: And I said, "What is it?" He said, "Shakespeare." I said, "What? I don't wanna take a class on Shakespeare." That was not something that sounded attractive to me when I was in high school. He said, "No, no, no, no, I've heard it's good." So I reluctantly agreed and took the class.

0:40:27.0 Tim: It changed my life. It was unbelievable. And at one point, we read a play, I can't even remember which one it was, Shakespearian play, and Mr. Herbert said, "Here's your assignment, I want you to take out the last two paragraphs of the play, and I want you to write a different ending. That's your assignment. That's your homework."

0:40:50.4 Tim: And so we did, and I did, and I turned my paper in. And Mr. Herbert, all he did, it was just in passing and it wasn't much, but he just looked at me, gave me my paper back. He was going through the aisles, passing everybody's papers back to them with their grades. And he just looked at me for just a second and he said, "That's pretty good."

0:41:13.6 Tim: That was it. That was the extent of our conversation. It was almost a chance encounter. That interaction, which lasted no more than two seconds, I think that changed my life in some ways.

0:41:26.0 Tim: Because he communicated to me the fact that he thought that that was pretty decent and there might be some potential there. I didn't know that.

0:41:37.2 Tim: Does that make sense, Junior?

0:41:38.6 Junior: Yeah, I see your point clearly and it makes a lot of sense to me. So let's summarize. We've been a lot of places today.


0:41:48.7 Junior: Our effectiveness as leaders lies in our ability to transfer ownership and critical thinking. And it all starts with our own ability to take ownership and think critically.

0:41:57.7 Junior: So as you implement behaviors that encourage others to problem solve and to participate in a meaningful way, you'll experience better leverage as a leader and you'll see your people flourish.

0:42:10.7 Junior: And I think that those are the two things that we've talked about that stand out most to me. It's two-pronged benefit, it's good for the business and it's good for your people.

0:42:16.7 Junior: So any final words, Tim?

0:42:19.1 Tim: I really enjoyed the episode. And I can't keep thinking that everyone needs to gain more ownership and to improve their critical thinking skills. We've talked about this in a business setting, but it's universally applicable.

0:42:33.9 Tim: That's what I would say.


0:42:35.5 Junior: If you found value in today's episode, please like, please subscribe and send to a friend. Thank you for your listenership, everyone. And we will see you next episode. Bye bye.


0:42:52.4 Freddy: Hey, Culture by Design listeners. This is the end of today's episode. You can find all the important links from today's episode at

0:43:01.3 Freddy: And if you found today's episode helpful and useful in any way, please share it with a friend and leave a review. If you'd like to learn more about LeaderFactor and what we do, then please visit us at

0:43:13.8 Freddy: Lastly, if you'd like to give any feedback to the Culture by Design podcast or even request a topic from Tim and Junior, then reach out to us at or find and tag us on LinkedIn.

0:43:25.0 Freddy: Thanks again for listening and making culture something you do by design, not by default.


Show Notes

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Episode Transcript

What’s a Rich Text element?

The rich text element allows you to create and format headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, images, and video all in one place instead of having to add and format them individually. Just double-click and easily create content.

Static and dynamic content editing

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How to customize formatting for each rich text

Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system.

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