By Joyce Raw

If you have been involved in leadership in any capacity you will be aware of that old chestnut “Leadership….nature or nurture?”  Do we think that leaders are born, or do we think that leaders are/can be created? Will we ever agree on a definitive answer?

However, like most people involved in leadership, I have my own theories on this topic and hold the firm belief that leadership (well, good leadership anyway!) is not a “free spirit” living the single life, but is actually married to common sense.

There are many wonderful authors out there who have written excellent books on leadership, but even they will admit that they expect the reader to be able to employ a modicom of common sense when leading others.  It may be that people who are not born leaders, but who possess buckets of common sense, can be mentored to become good leaders, and natural leaders will already be nodding their heads as they will consider themselves to be in possession of oodles of common sense.

So, read through the following examples and decide for yourself: is this leadership or common sense?  Please note that it is assumed that you have taken action rather than do nothing as, well, no-one wants to be that guy do they?

  • You’ve just finished doing your photocopying and have all you need, but there are only a few sheets of paper left in the photocopier and you know others are waiting to use the copier after you.  Do you reload the copier because a) it’s the right thing to do and out of courtesy for your colleagues or b) not everyone knows how to reload the copier properly and the ensuing paper jams will delay work and cause anxiety?
  • At the weekly team meeting the person who normally takes the minutes is away and you decide to take it upon yourself to do the minutes because a) everyone knows that when you do the minutes they are accurate and your colleagues will have a reminder of the tasks they have agreed to undertake, or b) without accurate minutes some tasks may be unnecessarily duplicated and time wasted, or some colleagues may take the opportunity to let someone else do their work?
  • A very popular colleague has decided to leave the organisation and there is a collection.  In the past there has been general apathy about collections but you do not want the person to feel they were undervalued during their employment, so you decide to do the collection because a) if someone does not start the collection soon you will run out of time and it could potentially be embarrassing for the organisation, or b) you are very persuasive and can charm most people to contribute at least something so you can present the gift on time?

Now, it may be that you have said that you would do all of those things, but how will you know the difference between leadership or just plain old common sense?

In one of my past employments as a registered manager for a domiciliary care agency, it was sometimes difficult to persuade a senior member of the team to act in a supervisory capacity when I wished to take annual leave, based on the argument “but I’m not very good at leading a team”.  My counter-argument was always that I was not asking the person to lead the team, I was asking them to use their common sense when faced with any troubleshooting issues.  When I returned from annual leave, it was very often the case that the acting supervisor had, in fact, been leading the team, whilst using their common sense, and had not realised it!

Common sense is generally known as a basic ability to perceive, understand and judge things. To use your common sense you are aware of the possible outcome(s) and therefore seek accomplishment.  Leadership is accepted as an ability to guide or direct a group of people or an organisation in the accomplishment of a common task, but first you must have an ability to understand and judge all parameters.

Surely you cannot have one without the other…..can you?  We may not have been invited to the wedding but those two are definitely married!