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Banging the Gongs of Common Sense Leadership

We didn’t need Voltaire to tell us that common sense is not so common. But we can thank the French philosopher for so concisely and precisely stating what we all know from personal experience. It is because Voltaire got it right that we – me, other leaders, and, mostly likely, you – sometimes seem to relentlessly bang the same gongs about common sense leadership. As the writer of Ecclesiastes put it, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

We bang those gongs for at least four reasons. One, repetition is the key to learning. Two, there are always more emerging leaders who need to hear life’s most important lessons. Three, we need to process how to apply timeless truths to current conditions. And four, repetition is the key to learning (a little subtle humor there).

Rather than wonder why we need to say the same things over and over, however, our time might be better spent looking for ways to apply wisdom (or common sense) more quickly and consistently. When I hear some common sense I want to put into practice, here are five things I try to do to make it immediately part of my mindset and life

Record It

Years ago I began writing down insights that I felt were powerful and that I should try to incorporate into my leadership. These days I write them into the Notes app on my iPhone or iPad. My list includes more than 300 proverbs, quotes, and insights that I’ve heard from speakers, friends, books, and other sources. Just writing them down reinforces the message.

Reflect on It

We’re all busy. So busy, in fact, that too often we hear without listening or we listen without processing. Leaders who don’t slow down enough to process what they believe are often ill-equipped to handle the bigger challenges they’ll face. Carve out some time each day, each week, and each month for intentional reflection. On what? Well … on what you write down and read. Trust me, if you create the time, the “what” will present itself. You might want to keep a journal about ideas you want to process and on how you’ve processed those ideas. I routinely read over the list I keep on my iPhone and iPad. As a visual learner, I find it helpful to write them, review them, and memorize them as I contemplate what they mean and how best to apply them to my life.

Share the Reflections

Sharing what you believe with trusted friends helps you process it even further. And the more you articulate it, the more it becomes engrained in your memory and ready for recall when needed.

Look for Examples

Whenever you’re processing ideas about leadership, a funny thing begins to happen – if you’re paying attention. One, you begin to see how others apply or don’t apply the same life lessons. And, two, you begin to see opportunity after opportunity to apply these lessons yourself. Trust me, examples will unfold right in front of you every day.

Draw from the Reflections

All this time contemplating common sense ideas serves a purpose. It helps convict you and equip you so that you will think and act differently when difficult moments arrive. If you’ve put some time and effort into understanding common sense, you will recognize when you need it and you’ll act on it more regularly.

As leaders – at home, in our community, and at work – we all tend to bang the gongs of common sense in hopes that those around us will incorporate more common sense into their behaviors. If we keep banging those gongs and, more importantly, if we pay close attention to those common sense behaviors, perhaps common sense leadership won’t be so uncommon.


  1. Len McCreary

    Looking for examples of leadership is a powerful idea. When you begin to see how others apply or don’t apply the life lessons, it creates great opportunity. With those you see embracing and applying the life lessons, your relationship will be reinforced by integrity, and you will be eager to entrust them with more. Alternatively, when you see someone neglect or – like Solomon late in his life – choose not to apply the life lessons, you have the ability to turn it into a teachable moment and perhaps correct their course.

    Some people are thirsty for wisdom, but haven’t been exposed to much of it. Others have gleaned some wisdom, but are weary or stumble, and just need a shoulder to lean on while they regain their footing. Don’t miss an opportunity to pour into them or prop them up for a short bit before you continue on your way. Like the Samaritan, whose modest intervention meant life or death to a destitute traveler left for dead and passed by on the side of a road, your reaction to that momentary opportunity could impact someone for a lifetime. It’s common sense.

    Reply to Len McCreary

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