Leading Through Higher Level Thinking

I believe an imperative for a teacher, leader, or coach is understanding the importance of engaging the higher order thought processes of those sitting in front of you. As a coach, leader, or teacher, I must engage your higher order thought processes if I expect you to gain anything from our conversation. Just what are these higher order thought processes?

Much of the thinking we use every day relies on static recall, not deeper level thinking. Static recall is reaching into the memory bank. But it does not stimulate portions of the brain which cause us to learn or process new information. Static Recall Example: What day of the week is today? To answer this, you needed to engage your brain to recall something you already have in your memory bank. However, it did not engage your brain in a learning exercise.

Cognitive learning example: What does Saturday mean to you? To answer this question, you must engage more than static recall. It does indeed engage static recall as you must first determine what a Saturday is. But to answer the question, your brain must go into a deeper processing mode. Your brain begins to extract files of activities you do on Saturday. While doing this it also begins categorizing those activities into things you enjoy and those you do out of necessity, like yard work, laundry, house cleaning. Our tendency is to file those things aside and begin focusing on the things we enjoy doing on Saturday, spending time with family, fishing, watching sports.

All of this is happening in your brain at lightning speed. Your brain is processing thousands of pieces of material you’ve collected over the years. All of this is taking place in seconds to help you formulate a response. Since the brain processes information in this manner to help formulate a response, should we not take care to formulate the right questions?

Because the question was, “What does Saturday mean to you?” you will formulate a response by combining several of the pieces of information processed by your brain in those quick, few seconds. For many, it will be something they have never thought of or processed before. This one question has produced a learning experience for everyone in the room. As a coach, I would then ask a question based off part of the client’s response. It would be a question leading to his desired outcome; perhaps a more productive life, more time with family, etc. Example: “How do you guard your Saturday’s so that you have that special time with your family?”  or “What can you do to guard against scheduling things that take you away from your family on Saturday?”

Engaging the higher order thought processes is the only way we can attach new information to what already exists in our memory bank. Learning does not occur when using static recall. If we cannot attach the new information to something we already know, learning cannot take place. When we use questions that engage the higher order thought processes in a group setting, the brain of every person in the room engages. As one person responds verbally, all the others continue to process information including what is being spoken. Even if only three out of 36 people speak, each person in the room is experiencing a learning encounter.

As a coach, leader, or teacher you must learn to actively engage the higher order thought processes of your listeners. Now that the wheels are turning in your own brain, it is time to think on formulating good thought provoking questions that will engage the higher order thought processes and provide behavioral life-changing opportunities for your clients/students.

This post is based on an excerpt from Chapter 7 of COACHING: A Way of leadership, A Way of Life. Click on the title to learn more and to purchase your copy.

George Yates is a Church health Strategist and Coach assisting organizations and individuals to fulfill their God-given purpose.