Leadership is Common Sense in Action

The funny (as in odd) thing about the idea of leadership is there’s nothing particularly challenging about it. We’re not unifying theories of physics or contemplating the greater meaning of life. Leadership is common sense. Why then, do so many fail to get it right?

Leadership must be like dieting. We all know the behaviors that lead to the good results, it’s just easier to do the opposite.

In program after program where participants are asked to list the behaviors of leaders they deem effective, the same items not-so-magically appear on the flip charts and whiteboards.

When asked how many regularly incorporate the behaviors on the lists, participants caught up in the spirit of self-reflection are often moved to confess they can do better. Much better.

“Why?” I ask, probably sounding a bit desperate as I hopefully move closer to the truth of why effective leadership is so vexingly elusive in many of our workplaces.

Sadly, the answers are never particularly insightful. In fact, all of them sound a lot like the dieting and health club excuses. No time. Too busy. No discipline. Too tired.

It’s easier to grab that doughnut than pass it by. It’s easier to push off delivering that constructive feedback discussion than invite discomfort into our work day. It’s easier to focus on the base needs of the person staring back at us in the mirror than to put the interests of those who work for us first.

We know what we’re doing wrong, and we accept it. That’s too bad, because leadership is common sense in action.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Leadership is the easiest hard work you’ll ever do. Or, maybe it’s the hardest easy work. You can eat the doughnut or spend more time working out. There’s no argument which choice offers better returns. The same goes for leading.

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Leadership Books by Art Petty

By |2017-08-25T07:38:29+00:00August 25th, 2017|Just One Thing, Leadership|7 Comments

About the Author:

Art Petty is a coach, speaker and workshop presenter focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. When he is not speaking, Art serves senior executives, business owners and high potential professionals as a coach and strategy advisor. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.


  1. Paul Thornton August 30, 2017 at 7:18 pm - Reply

    I agree the leadership concepts are not that complex. But applying them is challenging. The challenge is finding the sweet spot–that spot where you will be most effective. Consider—
    There is a fine line between too much coaching and too little coaching.
    There is a fine line between too much direction and too little direction.
    There is a fine line between too much delegation and too little delegation.. etc. etc.

    The best leaders are seasoned and wise. They have learned from their mistakes and successes.

    Paul B. Thornton

    • Art Petty August 30, 2017 at 7:40 pm - Reply

      Well said, Paul! Thanks for sharing your wisdom. Indeed, the application of the concepts involves finesse cultivated through experience. -Art

    • Kaitlin September 12, 2017 at 6:00 pm - Reply

      I also agree with your statement that leadership concepts are not that complex. They become ingrained in us through readings, presentations, school, and even television. What are your best methods to finding that sweet spot you mentioned? To me, it takes time management, organization, and scheduling. If you are able to break a task up and define what steps to take first, as a leader, then the ability to be successful becomes easier. You also state the best leaders are ‘seasoned’, what tips do you have for new leaders?

      • Art Petty September 12, 2017 at 7:04 pm - Reply

        Interesting, project management/work breakdownish view on the work of leading. My perspective is that leadership is practiced in the pursuit of those things we label as management. The tasks of leading are less prescriptive and more ultimately ingrained behaviors. My tips for new leaders are captured nicely in my First Time Managers Series here as well as in my many programs and webinars on the topic. The core tip is study successful and lousy leaders and soak up the behaviors. Vow to extend the great behaviors and never to apply the miserable ones. The sweet spot for any person in a leadership role is when it’s working. When people are at their best around you, solving problems and experimenting and growing as leaders in front of your eyes. It takes time, practice, ample mistakes, and more time and practice to get there.

  2. […] From Art Petty: Effective Leadership is Common Sense: Why Then is It So Elusive? […]

  3. Kaitlin September 12, 2017 at 5:49 pm - Reply

    This article does a fantastic job of highlighting the simplicity of leadership. It is encouraging to know the leaders of organizations across the country know and understand the characteristics of successful leaders but it is unfortunate they do not express them. Machiavelli, guided by practical considerations, believed that “leaders need steadiness, firmness, and concern for the maintenance of authority, power, and order…” (Bass, 2007)

    Since, it is an issue of taking their skill set one step further, what “baby steps” do you recommend leaders make to be more successful, even on days when they have “no time, are too busy, and are too tired?” How do leaders make their actions more consistent to maintain success?

    • Art Petty September 12, 2017 at 7:00 pm - Reply

      Kaitlin, thanks for your thoughtful comments! The days where “it” hits the fan and we seemingly have no time for some of the loftier aspects of leadership are actually great opportunities to show off leadership in action. I practice and preach a philosophy that high performance is created one encounter at a time. Every day we are given an incredible gift in the form of issues, challenges, fires, and crises, and each one of those is an opportunity to model the behaviors. I encourage my clients to take a few minutes before the work day reminding themselves of their priorities and dedicating the day to maximizing the value of every single encounter. No one is perfect, but as Lombardi suggested, we can chase perfection and in the process, find excellence.

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