By Breanne Harris

For years, we’ve been hearing about the importance of critical thinking in the workplace. Critical thinking ranked #1 on the Most Important Skills for Next Gen Leaders on the EDA/Pearson Trends in Executive Development Survey since 2012. The same survey also identified critical thinking as the skill most lacking in next gen leaders. According to, the number of job postings that mention critical thinking skills has doubled since 2009.

Companies are not only assessing critical thinking skills of new hires in record numbers, but they’re spending millions to train their current employees.

Yet, in the 2016 Trends in Executive Development Survey, critical thinking dropped down the priority list of key skills for emerging leaders. Is the critical thinking craze over? Are our employees suddenly able to Recognize Assumptions, Evaluate Information, and Draw Conclusions effectively? Not quite.

According to the survey, employers still want employees with critical thinking skills, but that’s not enough. Emerging leaders must have a cluster of skills that result in Cognitive Readiness.

Cognitive Readiness is the mental, emotional, and interpersonal preparedness necessary to handle uncertainty and risk, and it is the next big thing in high potential training programs.

The business that an emerging leader will lead in 5-10 years will be even more volatile, uncertain, and complex than it is now. With ever-changing customer demands, disruptive technology, globalization, generational shifts, and an increase in regulatory/legislative issues, a successful leader will have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. They must be able to maintain self-control in increasingly stressful and ambiguous climates.

Cognitive readiness isn’t a single skill a person can master. Rather, it’s a cluster of skills including mental toughness, adaptability, learning agility, emotional control, attentional control, sense-making, situational awareness, and of course, critical thinking.

High potential programs are focusing on cognitive readiness in part due to concerns about Generation Y’s dependence on technology. Do millennials have the attentional control necessary to stay focused on the physical world despite the incoming distractions of the digital world? Do they have the situational awareness and sense-making ability to walk into a board room and read the emotions of everyone around the table? Can they identify patterns and anolomies to determine who’s in control, who’s on board, and who is disengaged? Are they aware of their own thinking processes, emotions, and biases? And if so, can they overcome critical thinking barriers?

These are the questions that keep current leaders awake at night. Do the millennials currently being groomed for leadership roles have the cognitive readiness skills necessary to focus their attention and quiet their minds in order to think critically? The answer is unclear, but according to the Trends in Executive Development Report, cognitive readiness is a hot topic and will drive the future of executive development programs for years to come.