Cognitive skills and leadership performance: The nine critical skills

Michael D. Mumford, Erin Michelle Todd, Cory Higgs, Tristan McIntosh

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

117 Scopus citations


Over the years, a growing body of evidence indicates that certain cognitive skills are a critical determinant of leader performance. In the present effort we show that application of these skills is typically founded in case-based knowledge. Subsequently, we identify nine key skills people in leadership positions employ when working with case-based knowledge to address leadership problems: 1) problem definition, 2) cause/goal analysis, 3) constraint analysis, 4) planning, 5) forecasting, 6) creative thinking, 7) idea evaluation, 8) wisdom, and 9) sensemaking/visioning. Individual and situational contingencies shaping effective application of these thinking skills is discussed. In addition, the implications of findings bearing on leader thinking skills for leader assessment and leader development are considered.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)24-39
Number of pages16
JournalLeadership Quarterly
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017


  • Expertise
  • Leader cognition
  • Leader development
  • Leadership
  • Performance
  • Thinking skills


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