I support the view regularly expressed by Jim Kerr that common sense is not common practice. In fact, over many years of working, I’ve seen too many supposedly intelligent leaders and managers make some of the dumbest mistakes! One of the best being a newly-appointed Head of Service exhorting all his management team, me included, to adopt his new policy of ‘Ready, Fire, Aim!’
You might, like me, think “Please save me from people who read management books and completely misinterpret what they are saying”. However, this was one case, among a litany of occasions, when common sense didn’t prevail.
In this article, I will set out why I think common sense is not common practice and what we all need to do to get this back on track.
What stops our common sense taking precedence?
In short, your organisation’s culture. People spend too much time doing things ‘the way we do around here’! So, they don’t see the wood for the trees. Your rules, processes, and systems, not to mention the possible educational experiences you received at school and beyond, have robbed people of their ability to think for themselves.
And thinking for ourselves is when our common sense comes to the fore!
How do we fix that?
I support Jim Kerr’s other views that we need to focus on character in the people we recruit, and on cultures that enable people to flourish.
We need to hire rigorously, invest in people’s professional development, and help people become both independent and creative. We need individuals who ask the question, “How do I make my teammates better?” Not those who look to blame others when things go wrong.
We need to ensure that our teams can think, reflect, challenge and learn. In my direct experience of leading and participating in teams, people rise to the challenge, and learn better and faster, if it is their challenge.
So, what about you?
Where do you feature on the independence scale? If you were scoring yourself, 1 = low and 10 = high, where would you be? How good are you at setting task parameters and letting individual staff figure the rest out for themselves? How often do you do that, and then micro-manage them? Be honest!
Remember, leaders create leaders. The wider the thinking on a given topic, the more likely you are to generate creativity and innovation. My experience of grass roots working, and leading front-line staff, is that they know the job. They need your support from time to time, and motivation and inspiration occasionally. Mostly, they also need you to use your common sense and let them lead their part of the work.
Why people struggle to rise to the occasion
Leadership and common sense should go hand in hand. In my experience, they rarely do.
Why, because people are afraid, insecure and uncertain.
They are afraid to admit they don’t know it all. People are anxious that someone might be better at parts of their job than them or they think someone is after their job. They are uncertain because they are not sure how to progress issues and are afraid to ask for help.
Common sense would tell them that the first is probably true for all of us. But what might be gained by admitting your lack of knowledge or inexperience?
The second may be true, but it doesn’t make that person a better leader or better suited to your particular role. Acknowledging the value and depth of skills, knowledge and experience in your team is a no-brainer for me.
The third may be true for many, but is that a weakness? Imagine what might be gained by just asking?
Thinking, rather than reacting, is the key
My sense is that people spend too much time doing, and too little time thinking. They don’t think sufficiently, and they don’t apply the learning from that thinking. They tend to react or overreact, rather than stop, reflect, review and figure out another way forward. Better still, do that with elements of your team or your whole team, whichever is best suited to the task at hand.
I am still amazed at how many organisations I have encountered over that past 38 years, who have still not mastered this common sense approach. Take proper time out to reflect, review, evaluate and plan. Do it in support and supervision sessions, do it in team meetings or staff away days. Do it wherever is appropriate, but do it, record the outcomes of the thinking and then put those results into practice. If you are seeking excellence in all you do, this is the way forward.
I welcome your comments and enjoy engaging in further dialogue. If I can be of any assistance in coaching your leadership practice or developing greater personal resilience, please just ask.
Contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling +447958765972.
I am always happy to listen and ready to help.
Thank you for reading.