Leaders must have analytical skills and be able to think analytically if they are to address complex issues. They must have the skills to identify critical and relevant information, interpret the data, develop new ideas or solutions based on their findings, and synthesize and communicate their recommendations or decisions in easy to understand terms. That is what analytical skills are all about – the ability to research, collect, and analyze information to form more complex ideas or solutions. It is not just understanding information, but the ability to make sense of it and know how to use it appropriately.
In order for leaders to make informed decisions, they must be able to think analytically. Many decisions that leaders make are onion-like in nature. They are complex, have many layers, actions to one layer can affect other layers, and it can be unpleasant to cut through all the layers and examine the core. But being skilled at analysis can greatly benefit your creative problem solving and decision-making abilities.
“Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider.” Francis Bacon
Breaking Down Analytical Skills
It is important to note that analytical skills is a plural term. It is a set of skills combined together that creates analytical thinking. Great leaders can recognize the various skills involved and acknowledge which ones are their strengths and which ones they need to either strengthen or build a team that can cover those skills.
One important skill that transcends all the following, is attention to detail. Being sloppy with any of these other skills will diminish your outcome. Having good attention to detail means that you can notice, retain, and keep track of details. It means that you can follow instructions correctly, avoid mistakes in your written work, and carefully evaluate the data.
Your specific situation or challenge will determine what type of information you need to gather and what types and depth of research needs to take place. Data mining through company records, theorizing new approaches, conducting internet searches, reviewing academic journals or industry trade reports, and numerous other options are potential avenues for research. Give careful consideration to the best research strategies to use, each time you use analytical thinking.
It is not enough just to gather lots of information. You must comb through it, organize it, and understand what it means and its implications. Information is only useful if you know how to comprehend and apply it. There are no shortcuts in sorting and making sense of your findings. It requires thoughtful analysis.
Depending upon your specific topic, creativity may include forecasting, problem solving, brainstorming, or troubleshooting. Sometimes you develop ideas here that cycle you back to research. That is okay.
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” Albert Einstein
This is where you try out your ideas. Before you present a solution, you want to have some indication that it will work. If you can test your idea, in some format or realistic simulation, do that. Depending upon the situation, you may have to seek approval before you test, but the more positive support you can generate before you make this request the better. Sometimes if your testing does not produce success, you may need to cycle back to either research or creativity.
This is where you put all the puzzles pieces together in a clear picture that everyone can easily visualize and comprehend. It doesn’t matter how great your ideas or solutions are, if they cannot be quickly and simply understood, they won’t be implemented. Make sure you outline the situation in relatable terms, the steps you took in a logical and sequential order (if requested), the specific actions you recommend, and articulate the outcomes and benefits of your ideas or solutions. The more you can put your report into the form of a story, the greater impact it will have and the better your audience will retain your message.
“My father used to say, don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.” Desmond Tutu
Seven Strategies to Strengthen Your Analytical Skills
In addition to working on improving the specific skills used in analytical thinking, there are numerous everyday activities we can engage in that will also contribute to strengthening our analytic abilities.
This is more than skimming your favorite magazine at the check-out line. This is thoughtful, intentional reading. The kind of reading that makes you think and wonder and imagine. Reading that involves you and engages your mind. That is the type of reading that requires you to think about why things ae happening, what caused them to happen, and what might happen in the future. Reading that actively involves thinking allows you to practice analyzing a situation.
If reading is not your thing, consider listening. Whether it be audio books or podcasts or talk radio, there are numerous listening options that can provide the same benefits as reading. Again, you have to look for things that cause you to think and explore a variety of thoughts and ideas.
You can learn a lot by watching others. Observe how other leaders handle different challenges. Take the time to see how your actions and the actions of others effect people and situations. Use that information to ignite your curiosity as to why things are happening the way they are. Try not to simply rush through your day; take the time to observe the world around you and see what it can teach you.
Children are often seen as creative because they don’t see limitations and they allow their imagination to run wild. Adults tend to see limits before opportunities. But playing games not only entertains us, they stimulate our brain to flex its critical-thinking muscles. This allows us to look at the whole picture while developing a strategy and plan-of-attack at the same time. Whether it is a game on your phone or a game you play with family and friends, the act of play can help us think in a more uninhibited way.
According to Dr Scott McGinnis, an instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School, engaging in regular moderate exercise increases neuron action in many sections of the brain. Activities that require you to memorize certain motions or control the pace of your movements both help to strengthen your analytical skills. A workout for the body can also be a workout for the mind.
There are a multitude of ways to bring learning into a lifelong daily habit. Learning doesn’t have to be taking a formal course. It is taking the curiosity approach to everything you do. It is asking questions, seeking guidance from a mentor, and surrounding yourself with diverse perspectives that cause you to challenge your own way of thinking. Learning is about expanding how you perceive things and opening yourself up to new way views, new opinions, new facts, new ways of doing things, and new ways of thinking through things. Being open to learning also opens your mind for analyzing complex situations.
While reflection can take many forms, they all involve hitting the pause button. Whether your preference is for journaling, meditation, or other mindfulness activities, reflection involves quieting the noise around you to focus on the moment. This allows you to sort through, organize, and analyze whatever situation or challenge you are facing.
Putting It All Together
Companies look for leaders with the ability to investigate a problem and find the ideal solution in a timely, efficient manner. They want people who can use clear, logical steps and excellent judgment to understand an issue from all angles before executing an action. They want and need leaders with strong analytical skills.
Analytical decisions are not snap judgments. They take time and consideration. The more you can develop the various skills that contribute to analytical thinking, or develop teams that have members with strengths in each of these areas, the stronger your leadership decisions will be.