5 Simple Common Sense Leadership Lessons

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Practically speaking, there are several ways to learn valuable common sense leadership lessons.  Exploring and ruminating on scientific facts, data, studies, and processes all have their place in education.  But never discount the old-fashioned value of experiential learning.  Having “been there and done that” has a way of teaching longer-lasting lessons and driving home common sense principles in ways that bookwork never could.

Who Needs Common Sense Leadership Lessons

I had a virtual call recently with a corporate executive to finalize two upcoming speaking/training engagements.  However, the call started slightly later than planned. Once the harried exec finally arrived online, he apologized profusely for his tardiness.  Without sharing details, he laughingly asked, “You don’t teach common sense, do you?”

Yes — as a matter of fact — we do!

Maybe the only thing better than personal experiential learning is third-party experiential learning.  In other words, why wouldn’t we want to watch and learn from the experiences of others?  The value of the experience is available without the corresponding pain that regularly accompanies the lesson.

Author and humorist, Mark Twain observed, “A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.”  I get it.  Do you?  I’d rather watch a man learn the lessons of carrying a cat by the tail — than experience those same lessons.  That just makes common sense to me.

The same concept is true in leadership.  There are lots of leadership mistakes that are made every day in organizations around the globe.  But apparently, not enough people are paying attention and learning from the mistakes of others.  How do I know?  Because executives continue to ask if common sense can be taught.

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So with my executive friend in mind, I will share 5 common sense leadership lessons.  Unfortunately, all of these lessons have been learned the hard way by some leaders, somewhere.  (Truth be told, I’ve learned a few of these the hard way, myself).  Let’s title these lessons: Mistakes made once — then never again!

5 Common Sense Leadership Lessons


1. Promise more than you can deliver.
2. Try to know it all and do it all yourself.
3. Believe you can hide your mistakes from your followers.
4. Lie to a follower today, believing you can get him/her to trust you again tomorrow.
5. Think you can change someone by the power of your will.

Do any — or all — of these things, despite the caution communicated here, and you’re bound to learn something you can’t learn in any other way.

More Common Sense

These 5 common sense leadership lessons are just the tip of the iceberg. For a deeper dive, dig into my book, Leaders Ought to Know: 11 Ground Rules for Common Sense Leadership. Available on Amazon or get an excerpt here.

Phillip Van Hooser

Phillip Van Hooser, CSP, CPAE, Founder & Chair, Van Hooser Leadership. A seasoned leadership expert, keynote speaker, and author, Phillip Van Hooser is passionate about developing intentional leaders who can effectively engage and empower their employees to deliver powerful results. His most recent book is “Earning The Right To Be Heard," a primer for creating greater influence and opportunities. Connect with Phil on LinkedIn.


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