Evidence Based #Leadership: What Makes You Say That?

The leadership competencies of the future are myriad and complex. For example, modern decision-making calls for evidence, critical thinking, complex problem solving and collaboration. Leaders are expected to be good decision-makers and to role model good decision-making skills. They are also expected to coach and develop their followers’ decision-making skills.

It’s tough to develop decision-making skills, because virtually all of them involve thinking.  Thinking is something that happens inside someone’s head. It’s tough for a follower to see how the leader’s thinking process works. So how do you develop your followers’ decision-making skills?  By making the thought process visible. Let’s say that your organization values evidence based decision-making. So how do you encourage this?  By asking (or answering) one simple question, “What makes you say that?”

This question is powerful, because it forces people to provide a rationale for their opinion. As they work through this answer, they will identify whether they have evidence, the quality of the evidence, and will start to make their thought process visible to others. This usually results in a more robust conversation about the merits of the choices facing the organization. It usually encourages better preparation for discussions, and better quality evidence. Over time, people will anticipate this question, and start to provide evidence for their opinions, assumptions or recommendations.

This question is also powerful for you as a leader. Being able to answer “What makes you think that?” in a clear, concise manner demonstrates your thought process, but it also acts as a check on your logic. If you ask that question of yourself, and can’t come up with solid logic for your opinion, you can think more carefully about the issue. I recently experimented with this simple question at a board meeting. It resulted in a much richer discussion which improved our understanding and alignment on a critical organizational decision.

So, give this simple question a try.



Ritchhart, R. (2011). Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners (First edition.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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