Is Common Sense an Uncommon Commodity?

While researching some new management and leadership material recently, I was struck by a regular, recurring theme in the reviews of numerous books I found. The books were all centered around my passion for helping first time managers. The search had me looking for better ways to guide each of you towards better success and happier endings.


On a very regular basis the reader reviews included comments like:

  • …good read, but really seems like common sense.
  • …once I started reading, it was all common sense…
  • I realized I knew most of this from having watched my old bosses.

I was not surprised. For quite some time, I and my colleagues who have served as business leaders agree. Good management practices often come from a high degree of common sense.

So, the idea of relying on common sense to learn how to become a better manager is not too bad. Sometimes just good, old fashioned common sense does indeed provide the right answer to a situation.

To be clear, let me share a definition of common sense.

sound practical judgment that is independent of specialized knowledge, training, or the like; normal native intelligence.

One problem with me trying to teach about common sense is that not everyone has it. In all my years of business experience, I routinely see some very talented and incredibly smart people who simply cannot operate with common sense. Based on the definition above, you can see how very smart people may revert to the specialized knowledge they have to cloud what could otherwise be a very normal, native intelligence.

The irony here is that the people who usually do not have common sense are incredibly blind to the topic. Over the years I have been tempted to attribute this lack of common sense to the over-abundance of ‘book smarts’. But we are not here to debate this aspect of leadership. Let me get back to the point.

[shareable cite=”Doug Thorpe”]In management, common sense can be a good solution to a problem. [/shareable]

First time managers can rely upon common sense to handle many of the challenges they face. Here are some examples:

  1. Deciding right from wrong –  As obvious as this may sound, there are moments when you, as a manager, must be the judge and jury over a dispute between co-workers. When the matter is reviewed and you realize the key question is whether one side is right and the other side is wrong, some common sense can be applied to make the call.

  2. Selling your decision –  When you make a decision, often there may be a need to persuade the team to embrace the decision by using some sales techniques. One very effective technique is to rely on common sense. ‘Think about it, can’t you see what a good idea this is going to be? It makes common sense.’

  3. Keeping it human –  In businesses, where so much is centered on technology or process, it is easy to gradually take the human element out of the environment. You can manage a process, but you must lead people. Therefore, applying common sense can return the human element to an otherwise highly technical or sterile workplace. Sidebar: One of the most difficult aspects of creating artificial intelligence in computers is the challenge of emulating common sense. Click here for more on that topic.


As you go about your duties on a day-to-day basis, look at the ways common sense might help. I realize this is by far not the only approach that should be used, but it is a good one to test before you go after more technical solutions. When you are posed with a management problem, and a common sense answer seems too simple, don’t be too quick to dismiss it. Over-thinking a problem may get you hung up on the wrong answer. If common sense works, use it!

For more on the common sense and smart people debate, check Dr. Travis Bradberry’s latest post.


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