Discovery leadership masterclass series with Frank Adu Anim: Leadership by common sense

To Delegate or not to Delegate

…the application of heart and mind

It is not so much about the collections of degrees and great academic laurels that qualify one and make him or her excel in leadership. Neither is leadership an exclusive occupation for some selected few who are privileged to have been elected into high offices. In fact, leadership is more dispositional than positional.

It is an admissible fact that some are naturally endowed with certain predisposed qualities for leadership readiness. Other school of thought also emphasizes the need to learn, get perfected in selfless discharge of responsibility and service to be acknowledged as an effective leader. I hold the belief that, there is a better leader in everyone and that leadership is about one’s ability to recognize the potential in himself or herself and others to shape and bring light to many.

For the past few weeks, I have touched on leadership from the dimensions of strategic, organizational and team levels and one may wonder whether leadership is cut out for only those at these functional roles. What about those within the organization and group settings who do not hold any portfolio, positions or great academic qualifications? Has leadership eluded them?

The quest to do a comprehensive piece on common sense leadership against conventional leadership is to satisfy the viewpoint that, when all else fails common sense leads. Meanwhile, leadership is the character of infectious enthusiasm, demonstrating the value of motivation, determination, the passion to succeed and the will power to cause a change in the life of people.

Leadership is not positional as earlier mentioned just as singing is not an endowed consequence of having a voice but the ability to apply the art and science of the discipline. Having said so, the skills that people see in a leader are not always quantifiable or immediately recognizable but they know when they see it and they know when it is missing.

In this article, I seek to speak on leadership from a common-sense approach other than the application of tact and the discipline of rule following which is predominantly the case. The question is, what happens when the systems, protocols and the lay down procedures fail? Common sense leadership is leading with the heart. Let’s talk about leadership, the common-sense way.

The Artificial Knowledge vs Knowledge of common sense

Several arguments have been advanced to champion the proposition that, conventional leadership is superior to common sense leadership. The two sides of these leadership approaches thrive on knowledge and its application.

Common sense can be explained as the natural ability to make good judgements and to behave in a practical and sensible way. The argument for common sense leadership lay emphasis on the fact that, knowledge count but common sense matters most says louAnne Johnson.

Austin Farrer and Lee wade into the argument and remarked that, Knowledge without common sense is folly; without method, it is waste without kindness, it is fanaticism, without religion, it is death. But with common sense, it is wisdom with method, it is power with charity, it is beneficence, with religion, it is virtue, life and peace.

The debatable question however is, are we losing our common-sense knowledge to artificial knowledge as leaders? It is important to mention that, the knowledge of the common sense is the knowledge that all humans have from birth which is unspoken and unwritten. The knowing that animals don’t drive cars, fire burns, preparation leads to success are a priori and common sense.

This knowledge is often used by human experts even when solving very narrow, domain-specific tasks. In order words, this common-sense knowledge is something that we learn through lifetime experiences and curiosity without even being aware of it. To Albert Einstein, the only source of knowledge is experience which comes from common sense.

On the other hand, the prevalent condition for the conventional leadership and artificial knowledge practice nevertheless presents another viewpoint to the discussion table. Artificial knowledge is the simulation of human processes by machines, especially computer systems. This aspect of artificial knowledge focuses on acquiring data and creating rules for how to turn the data into actionable information.

The rules which are called algorithms, provide computing devices with step-by-step instructions for how to complete a specific task. This view holds that, leadership practice comes from the knowledge of the application of principles and lay down structures and formulas serving as guides to follow.

Under this consideration, little or no room is made for exceptions except that, leadership is known to work well with a certain logic of understanding and lay down pattern of processes. Under this knowledge, leadership opinion requires continuous upskilling to stay with the changing times and the diversification of the workplace. According to Voltaire, common sense knowledge is not common. The belief is that, effective leadership is a combination of leadership style, followers and the situational factors leaders are faced with every day.

Other opinion also holds that, good leadership is the application of one’s natural abilities to make good judgements and to behave in a practical and sensible way. And that, good judgement is not common sense but a skill that must be learnt overtime in order to determine within which context certain decisions and actions should be made. Without teaching, influencing and fostering the right combination of skills, ethics and experience in leaders, good judgement is hard skill to master.

The conventional approach to leadership sees leadership as practical especially in times of diversity, change or time management and stress management leadership which often demands that the leader adapt to certain leadership styles and the acquisition of new set of critical thinking skills to make sense of decisions in order to create actions that are practical. By practical leadership, leaders are expected to discover self and emotionally build their intelligence to remain effective.

To be good leaders under this leadership choice in any workplace and occupation, is to be self-aware and truly connect to one’s inner self, to nurture confidence for empathetic leading. Also, we are well aware that, changing our perceptions helps us reinvent ourselves. Through developing new skills and new ways of doing things, leaders discover who they are and what they are capable of. 

Common sense leadership vs Conventional leadership

Great leadership is a matter of starting with emotional intelligence (common sense). The capability of the individual to recognize their own, and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different feelings and label them appropriately, to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior and to manage or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve ones goals is nothing but the exercise of emotional intelligence which comes from common sense.

That doesn’t sound too simple. Leadership is like dieting. We all know the behaviors that lead to good results, it’s just easier to do the opposite. It is easier to push off delivering that constructive feedback discussion than invite discomfort into our work space.

It is easier to sideline the base needs of that person who may demand accountability, professionalism, great results than to put the interests of those who work for us and sing our praises. We know what we are doing wrong and we accept it. That is too bad because leadership is common sense in action.

Again, leadership concepts are not complex but applying them is challenging. The challenge is to find the sweet spot between two extremes, delegation or no delegation, too much direction or too little direction.  Great leaders are seasoned and wise who have learnt from their mistakes and successes over time.

This is the leader’s ability to make good judgments and to behave in a practical and sensible way. There are two diametrically opposed views about whether leadership thrives on common sense or not. They go by the saying that if leadership were common sense, everyone would be good at it but people are not so it cannot be common sense.

The myriad of possible solution combinations along with the complexity of people make leadership difficult to master .They advance their argument to say that, people are complex and one simple management concept alone is unlikely to solve a human problems. Successful leaders use a mix of simple concepts that fit a particular situation to achieve their goals.

Meanwhile, leadership is about people who are often unpredictable and illogical. Even when leaders have good followers, people can change over time and that, it requires leaders to make frequent adjustments. Leaders must refigure out employees when they act unexpectedly. For example, a team might work well for months.

However, when one member leaves and another joins the team, performance might drop while they learn how to work with the new person. Leadership is the ability to get other people to do things they would not ordinarily do in an effort to achieve the leader’s goals and visions.

As such, leaders must view leadership as a social discipline which transcends human species to other social mammals. Leadership is easy to observe and discuss but leading is hard to do. Leadership must be understood as meaning making in a community of practice. Such a prevalent way of viewing leadership is a process of social influence and common sense.

Leadership roles change. As a leader climbs the corporate ladder, their level of leadership skills are challenged by the type of people they need to lead, their competitors, the decisions they need to make and the actions they need to take.

A supervisor needs a different set of leadership skills to manage his or her team than say an owner of a business who either have to manage all different departments himself or herself who need to constantly stay on top of managing trends and product to development.

Good leadership requires continuous upskilling to stay with the challenging times and diversification of the workplace. Again, people are complicated and each generation brings their own challenges. Leaders should keep up with trends and be consistent in sharpening their emotional skills.

However, common sense they say is the most limited of all natural resources. The fact that something is common doesn’t mean it is simple. To put it right, simplicity is the ultimate sophistication as indicated by Leonardo da Vinci.

Common sense is like “beauty as in the eyes of the beholder”. What seems like common sense decision making to some may be totally foreign to others. Have you met someone who is incredibly smart, but has little if any common sense? They could quote you facts and figures, explain very complex situations yet they cannot decide what they want for breakfast? It can be frustrating living with or knowing someone who operates this way. If you have a manager or a leader like this, it is completely problematic.

The approach to common sense leadership is the balance of art and science. Good leaders gracefully shift when they sense the need to do so but the one’s lacking common sense tends to get stuck in one corner. If the question is a technical one, the person lacking common sense will tend to press hard on the merits of the technically debate, completely ignoring the people side of the matter.

Impacts of knowledge on common sense leadership

Systems can produce bizarre output when confronted with unexpected situations. To behave intelligently in unexpected situations as a leader shows the capable strength of an increasingly general knowledge he or she possess.

Deep learning excels at pattern recognition but very poor at adapting to when small modifications are encountered especially in the absence of common-sense knowledge. In contrast, humans can adapt with more ease by reasoning and making logical inferences from common sense knowledge application.

Here, it is must mentioned that, the concepts of leadership are not that complex. They become ingrained in us through readings, presentations, school and even experience.  What are your best methods to finding that sweet spot of leadership experience? It takes time management organization and scheduling, breaking the task up and defining what steps to take first as a leader, then ability to be successful becomes easier.

The Rules of common-sense leadership

So, what is the way forward if we want to lead from a common-sense approach? Obviously, it is important we are guided as leaders by the following sets of preambles:

Rule 1: Make sure people know you care about them.

If you want to win over someone, you must first win over their hearts. People care about those who care about them. When a person feels valued, they maintain a passion to succeed over a longer period of time.

Rule 2: Be a good example.

The most important influence in a person’s life is someone worthy of emulation. People gain confidence when they see and feel it in their leaders. There is a difference between impressing people and impacting people. Learn to be a good example

Rule 3: Create an atmosphere that people enjoy working in

Employee’s attitudes are directly related to the quality of the atmosphere the leader creates for them. It is important therefore that the leader believes in the people he or she serves and they will believe in him or her and themselves. The leader must be guided by the three ingredients for success: recognition, appreciation and praise. This will do the magic

Rule 4: Define, delegate then lead

Define your vision and sell it with passion to the team. Focus on your strength, delegate to others based on their strengths and talents. People don’t always remember what you said or did but they will always remember how you made them feel. Make the people feel good

Rule 5: Bring emotional and physical energy to the workplace.

Energy is contagious, you can transfer it to others. High-energy leaders harness the collective energy of their people. Encourage your employees to leave behind something they are good at for something they might be able to do better. Create good energy with your spirit, emotions and physical presence.

Rule 6: Build relations as you implement your process, vision and value system.

Get your people working as a team because talent alone will not get it done, solid relationships can be the difference maker. You cannot lead someone if they do not trust you. People are compelled to return to you the feeling you create in them.

Rule 7: Establish credibility by being sincere, believable and trustworthy.

If you have integrity nothing else matters, if you don’t have integrity everything else matters. Be supportive in tough times, great leaders are a never-ending source of inspiration. Never allow greed to overpower you.

In conclusion, it is encouraging to note that, we can now identify great leaders of our time and understand the dynamic play of their talents and common-sense approach which accounted to them great successes. Machiavelli, guided by practical considerations, believed that leaders need steadiness, firmness and concern for the maintenance of authority, power and order to be great.

Meanwhile, the incredible gift in the form of issues, challenges, fires and crises we are faced with each day represent an opportunity to us as individuals to model our behaviors through common sense to excel in leadership. Nonetheless, no one is perfect but as Lombardi suggested, we can chase perfection and find excellence. The bottom line is, leadership is the easiest hard work or the hardest easy work therefore, let us follow our hearts but take our brain with us.

Discovery….Thinking solutions, shaping visions.


The writer is the CEO and Strategic Partner of AQUABEV Investment and Discovery Consulting Group. He is an Executive Director and the Lead Coach in Leadership Development and best Business Management practices for Discovery Leadership Masterclass.



|Thought Leadership | Training & Dev. |Management Consultancy |Business Conference|

Email: [email protected] or [email protected]

Tel: +233-0241824033/+233-0501324604





Leave a Reply