Leaders, Common Sense Doesn’t Actually Exist

As leaders, we question why we must spend time and money developing employees and teams to do things that seem like common sense. At the top of the list are issues like: listen, collaborate, do important things first, and treat customers well.

As our frustration rises in our moments of disbelief, the truth about common sense emerges.

Common sense is our set of expectations more than an innate ability.

Leaders, Common Sense is Actually Our Set of Expectations Image via Istock.com

Image licensed from Istock.com

Leaders, From Common Sense to Common Practice

One might actually say that beyond the basics of human survival, the most of what we label as common sense is whatever meets our expectations of others’ behavior. Those expectations are founded in our own knowledge, education, experience, and perspective. When people happen to meet our expectations, by chance, we feel both validated and thrilled.

Yet we increase the chance of organizational and team success by:

  • Making our expectations explicit vs. implicit

  • Hiring for as much of it as possible

  • Identifying what causes the variation in behavior

  • Engaging employees to develop shared expectations and applicable behavior

The Crux of Variation in Behavior

As we identify what causes variation in behavior, we gain insight to spot it in during interviews, to communicate clearly what we expect, and to engage employees for successful behaviors.

  1. Previous leaders’ expectations. Professors in school, parents, and previous bosses leave a decided mark on our job candidates and employees. It might be the behaviors that we value or not. If their manager was a highly critical micro-manager, then we may not see the common sense we expect like engaged listening, initiative in customer care, or critical assessment skills about the most important activities. All the more reason for us to make our behavioral expectations explicitly clear. Then spot and understand any variation and train/coach for successful outcomes.
  2. Personality types. People view situations and process them differently. Most of us have witnessed much debate in meetings over what is most important to do first. It isn’t common sense that determines the answer. It is understanding the various views around risks and explicit goals that produces a successful result.
  3. Personal motivators. Fear, fame, control, stress avoidance, need for security, craving for progress, are just a few of the forces that impact behavior. As leaders we think we want nothing but high achieving employees with little fear. Yet along with those employee traits come a lower tolerance for bureaucracy, a desire to speak their minds and tell leaders they’re wrong, and an expectation of full resources to ensure success. There are rarely employees that completely match our expectations. The variation is not their lack of common sense; it is the reality of employees trying to cope with conditions that don’t match who they naturally are.
  4. The mystery in the mix. Even if we are fortunate enough to find employees who match our high expectations, they are not identical people. They are different people. Bringing them together for eight hours a day to interact with ease and success uncovers the challenges and mysteries of rapport. Leaders who think team building is a waste of time discover the mysteries the hard way during high pressure and stress — when it is time to produce not build rapport.
  5. Our blind spots. If we want to minimize the variation from successful behaviors, we must start with ourselves. When we are highly self-aware, have our behaviors aligned with the goals, and work on our own demons, employees work in clarity not confusion. They spend less time managing up, second guessing our reactions, and tap dancing around success. They don’t have to guess our definition of common sense; they can engage with clear vision for maximum success.

Leaders, have you fallen prey to unstated expectations, a hope for things to naturally work, and denial of the steps needed to create teams of high performing engaged employees? One simple step to remedy this: Each time you say to yourself it’s just common sense, stop and write down your expectations. Then ask yourself if you communicated those expectations to everyone involved.

It takes clearly defined expectations and discussions to get everyone on the same page. It takes behavioral training to adapt to diverse customers and team building with colleagues to achieve what is often labelled as common sense.

I am your resource and coach and look forward to your ideas on this subject here or in private emails to me — whichever works best for you.

From my professional experience to your success,
Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™

Related Posts:
Leaders, Leading Change Within Yourself Changes Everything
Driver Type Leaders, Remove These 3 Threats to Success

©2012-2014 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc. Somerville, NJ. I appreciate your sharing the link to this post on your social streams. However, if you want to re-post or republish the content of this post, please email info@katenasser.com for permission and guidelines. Thank you for respecting intellectual capital.

Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™, delivers coaching, consulting, training, and keynotes on leading change, employee engagement, teamwork, and delivering the ultimate customer service. She turns interaction obstacles into interpersonal success. See this site for workshop outlines, keynote footage, and customer results.



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6 Responses to “Leaders, Common Sense Doesn’t Actually Exist”

  1. Khalid says:

    Hi Kate,

    Loved that one –> “Each time you say to yourself it’s just common sense, stop and write down your expectations. Then ask yourself if you communicated those expectations to everyone involved.”

    They usually say common sense is not always common but they never translate this the way you are describing it here!

    To avoid misaligned behaviors, such expectations should be agreed when the task is assigned to the employee. Leaders should always think SMART when assigning jobs to their employees. The more measureable the outcome, the less deviation from expectation it is to the leader.

    Thanks for the enlightment Kate 🙂


  2. Guy Harris says:

    Hello Kate,

    Excellent post!

    I really like your summary of the many things that can get in the way of “commn sense” (or common understanding).

    I read once (I think it was in a book by Aubrey Daniels) that common sense is “the unreasoned thinking of the average man.” So, even if common sense did exist, it would be based on “unreasoned thinking.”

    Thanks for your well reasoned thoughts on this commonly misunderstood concept.

    Have a great day,

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