The Power of Critical Thinking in Professional Leadership — In conversation with Joseph Samluk

5 min readJun 11, 2024


Critical thinking stands as a cornerstone of informed decision-making, fostering a multi-faceted approach that transcends mere acceptance of information and combines analytical skills with creativity, reflection, problem-solving, curiosity, open-mindedness, and effective communication. In an era inundated with data, diverse perspectives, and hidden agendas, the ability to critically evaluate, reason, and discern becomes invaluable. Not only does it empower individuals to navigate complex scenarios with clarity but also cultivates a deeper understanding of the world around them. Beyond its academic significance, critical thinking permeates various facets of professional and personal life, shaping outcomes, driving innovation, and laying the groundwork for informed discourse.

We are in conversation with Joseph Samluk, a C-level executive, renowned for his expertise in clean tech, environmental sustainability, and critical thinking. Joe shared insights into his strategic and critical thinking approach, encapsulated by the philosophy of ‘I know nothing’. This mindset, rooted in constant curiosity, defines his journey as a critical thinker.

Joe, during one of our conversations, you mentioned ‘I know nothing’ — in a way, a summary of how a critical thinker approaches life. We know critical thinkers are in high demand, but how does being a critical thinker make you a good candidate for a board seat, advisor, or highly effective C-suite executive? Talk to us about how your interest in and the embracing of history & psychology feeds your experience and how that works for you professionally. How does the ever-exploring / questioning make you a better professional, leader, and board member?

“In my journey through various disciplines — ranging from engineering to finance and marketing — I have cultivated a holistic approach to problem-solving, rooted deeply in critical thinking. While my foundational training was technical, I have always harbored a deep appreciation for the arts and humanities, showcasing a desire to understand and interpret the world around me in multifaceted ways. This journey has seamlessly shaped my foundational training into a platform for embracing strategic viewpoints. The fusion of my technical expertise with a commitment to multidisciplinary exploration positions me to bring not only a comprehensive approach but also a wealth of insights derived from diverse fields.

“Engineering, especially in a research-oriented setting, taught me the value of questioning the status quo. Rather than merely applying established formulas, I was challenged to derive them, forcing me to understand their underlying principles. This analytical approach became synonymous with critical thinking — delving deeper, questioning assumptions, and seeking a comprehensive understanding of the foundation for a decision.

“History and cultural psychology further enriched my perspective. History provides context, allowing us to recognize patterns, understand cultural nuances, and appreciate the complexities of human behavior. Meanwhile, cultural psychology offers insights into the intricacies of the human mind, driving decisions and interactions. Together, these elements create a comprehensive backdrop against which business decisions can be more effectively evaluated and executed.

“My insatiable curiosity transcends professional boundaries, weaving a mosaic of experiences fueled by a love for history and a deep-seated desire to understand people on a profound level. By immersing myself in diverse international work environments, my experiences have been varied and enriching. They range from privatizing the Czech State Bank, where I thoroughly examined the intricate effects of transitioning from a communist culture to embracing the principles of the free market, to navigating the complexities of production and operations influenced by Japan’s homogeneous society and adapting to the heterogeneity of the United States. Throughout these experiences, I consistently seek to grasp the unique cultural and psychological perspectives at play.

“My curiosity and appreciation for history have been instrumental in fostering an insatiable desire to live overseas, placing me in the midst of varied cultures to unravel their intricacies. I firmly believe that culture is at the root of decision-making, and by putting myself in the shoes of others, I gain a nuanced understanding of the unique cultural and psychological perspectives that shape their worldview. This curiosity, rooted in the principle of Shoshin, entails approaching subjects without preconceptions and being receptive to new experiences and learning opportunities, fostering a beginner’s mind. I developed this mindset while working abroad in Japan and recognize its importance at the core of critical thinking. It enables me to approach challenges with openness, adaptability, and a sincere desire to learn.

“Compassion, often overlooked in traditional business vocabulary, is integral to my leadership style. I firmly believe that business decisions should ensure financial viability while not losing sight of purpose, especially in clean tech and sustainability. For instance, my involvement in a project attempting to address air quality issues on Tribal Land due to natural gas flaring reflects a commitment to improving environmental conditions and respecting indigenous communities’ rights.

“Mindfulness and decisiveness complement my critical thinking approach. Drawing from experiences in Japan, where I navigated the forefront of technological advancements and innovation, I’ve learned the importance of being present and deliberate in decision-making, ensuring that choices are not only informed but also timely. This incorporates elements of Kaizen, such as the ‘elimination of waste’ and promoting continuous improvement, as well as the concept of ‘Gemba’ — a Japanese term referring to the practice of going to the actual place where work is done to gain insights, understand processes, and make informed decisions based on firsthand observations. Furthermore, my unwavering commitment to honesty, reinforced through hands-on experience in negotiating deals, conducting intricate transactions, and completing thorough due diligence, has become a guiding principle in diverse international arenas- from delving deep into the complexities of Latin American business operations in Mexico to gaining exposure to European financial markets in London. This commitment has fostered transparency and integrity in all interactions, establishing a foundation of trust and credibility essential for navigating the global business landscape.

“In tandem with this, creativity, stemming from a diverse toolbox of experiences and knowledge, empowers me to tackle complex challenges from multiple angles, demonstrating its effectiveness in addressing complex issues and contributing to sustainable solutions. My tenure as both a principal, investing and advising companies, and as an entrepreneur in the clean tech space, has provided insights into the challenges faced by both business owners and executives and by leveraging this knowledge, I’ve been able to devise innovative solutions. Whether it’s identifying unique investment opportunities, tackling operational challenges, forging a strategy to develop growth initiatives, or promoting responsible and sustainable business practices in alignment with ESG principles, creativity has been a catalyst for positive change in my multifaceted international journey. By leveraging insights from various domains, I can devise innovative solutions that are both effective and sustainable.

“In conclusion, my journey as a critical thinker, enriched by a diverse set of experiences and a genuine curiosity about the world, equips me to be a valuable asset in boardrooms and leadership roles. By continuously questioning, learning, and adapting, I strive to make meaningful contributions that drive positive change and sustainable growth, embodying the essence of a multidisciplinary approach at the highest levels of corporate leadership.”

Thank you for sharing, Joe.

Connect with Joseph on LinkedIn




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