Leadership and Common Sense

Once in a while I have a little rant.  This one happened in 2010 but, in my observation anyway, it continues to have some relevance and so I offer it as a re-rant.  Don’t worry.  It’s a short one…probably the best kind.


Oliver Wendell Holmes has been credited with saying; “Science is a first-rate piece of furniture for a man’s upper chamber, if he has common sense on the ground floor.

 Just lately, I’m thinking that our “ground floor” is beginning to suffer from termites.  Perhaps it is that in this age of information, litigation, and personal rights, we have stopped trusting our deeper instincts about what is right.  And, in many circles, we fail to acknowledge the value of common sense in our decision-making practices.

In 1998, Lori Borgman wrote an article called The Death of Common Sense. Here is an excerpt

Common Sense, aka C.S., lived a long life, but died from heart failure at the brink of the millennium. No one really knows how old he was, his birth records were long ago entangled in miles and miles of bureaucratic red tape. 
Known affectionately to close friends as Horse Sense and Sound Thinking, he selflessly devoted himself to a life of service in homes, schools, hospitals and offices, helping folks get jobs done without a lot of fanfare, whooping and hollering. Rules and regulations and petty, frivolous lawsuits held no power over C.S. (Read more…)

Like me, you may have read this passage and nodded reverently at its wisdom.  And yet it seems so many of us continue to ignore its message and devalue the power of trusting ourselves, and each other, to come up with ideas and solutions that transcend tight-fitting structures, intractable thinking and rules that serve only to strangle growth and creativity

But, in the midst of this rather gloomy outlook, there is hope.  Common sense, at least in the corporate world, may only be in a coma.  There are some very smart people out there who see something greater and more meaningful than the structures we create.  They are people who champion the notion that neither ideas nor humans can be corralled into little boxes of rules or stereotypes for very long.  They value, promote and initiate change that invites collaboration, creativity, engagement, happiness and yes, common sense into the workplace.

It would be wiser to listen to them, and to our own instincts more often than to seek solutions from books of rules or complicated business models.

If you are a leader, the answers you seek are often inside you.  You will not find them in the detail of anyone’s position description.  You will not find them in complicated competency models that not even a super-hero could fulfill.  You will not find them in sophisticated performance evaluation processes.  They are available to you through your intrinsic sense of what is right and your willingness to listen to others and the collective voice of common sense.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?



Filed under communication, Leadership Development, NOWLeadership

10 responses to “Leadership and Common Sense

  1. Gwyn, great post (even as a short rant) 🙂 I am hopeful that there is a growing awareness of the need to balance the empirical with the intuitive. With age and experience (aka – mistakes) the more Tao-ist I have become in my thinking.
    Thanks again for re-sharing your thoughts –
    Best regards,

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Carl ~ Yes, I also think balance is key. Being guided solely by instinct or common sense will not produce desired results either. Common sense, however, seems to be a ‘tool’ we employ too little. So, the Yin-Yang is decidedly out of whack! 🙂 Thanks for coming by!

  2. Philip Arnold said; ‘Your self concept can limit or broaden your horizons. Be spirit. Be transcendental.’ As leaders we need to simplify as much as possible, and learn to trust our instincts – as long as we are driven by being noble, skilfully cautious, and prepared to take an element of risk, our good intentions will pave the way.

  3. Pingback: Leadership and Common Sense | Mediocre Me | Sco...

  4. Gwyn, I am a big advocate of common sense. There is far too little of it in the workplace and the world it seems. Thanks for the post.

  5. Gwyn,

    I’m beginning to form a hypothesis about common sense: what’s “common sense” to one person isn’t necessarily so for another. So many times, when I talk with a person (after observing a “what were they THINKING?!” moment) I find that there is a reason why they behaved the way they did. I’m not suggesting their reasons were wise or well-informed, but they were reasons nonetheless.

    Furthering this train of thought – I also have discovered it works in reverse as well – when *I* decide to do something (based on what I believe to be a well-reasoned decision based on observed data), I often am chagrined to find out later that, well, hmmmm maybe that wasn’t such a good idea. This is definitely true when it comes to choices I make about technology (which isn’t my strong suit) 🙂

    What say you about this hypothesis?

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Jennifer~ I say that you have brought a new and interesting element into the ‘common sense’ discussion. First, your hypothesis reminds me that even common sense, while seemingly simple, has its complexity. And second, I’m reminded that common sense (and how we employ it) comes from our own particular cultural experience rendering it not so common after all! I think too, that somewhere in there, there is a common, rational thread in every discussion or decision that can easily get lost amid piles of unnecessary precaution and complexity. This, to me, emphasizes the need for creating environments that are not primarily driven by rules but by a commonly held set of values and principles. Using those as a framework for decision-making makes for a more ‘common’ application of common sense.
      Thank you, Jennifer for taking this conversation deeper!
      p.s. I’m with you on the technology front 🙂

  6. As always..enticing thoughts..

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