Friday, May 29, 2009


Competence and Common Sense is the 2nd of the 5 C's of Leadership. The key points within Competence and Common Sense are as follows:
  • Leadership is not related to a position or title
  • Always think, speak and act as a leader
  • Technical and leadership skills are important
  • Identifying, mitigating and monitoring risks as well as opportunities is the leader's job
  • Leverage the strengths of your team- you are not perfect
  • Common sense- it will not fail you
Leadership is not about your position of title. Anyone can be a leader (or not). Next time you pass a school yard with young kids playing outside, stop for a few minutes and watch. You will see that some of the children have emerged as leaders among their peers. They have no position, title or golden parachute but they are leading. The way to tell is that other kids are following. Leaders have followers. If you want to know if you are a leader, turn around once in awhile and see if anyone is volunteering to be your follower. Leaders emerge during a situation. They take action; they make suggestions; they stand up for what they believe; and they are convincing and persuasive.

Always think, speak and act as a leader. You can not turn it on and off. When you are a team or committee member but not the team leader, you should still think, speak and act as a leader. This does not mean taking control. Good leaders are good team members because they are also good followers. A good follower does not mean blind faith and obedience. Bring all your skills to the table. Make suggestions, challenge ideas, remember the greater good. If your official team leader is a good leader they want you to bring everything you have to the table. It will work if you are respectful of others, which is a leadership skill, and support the decision once it is made. So the ALWAYS in this point is critical. It really means always think, speak and act as a leader. Mike frequently reminds me that people speak as they think. Pay attention to the way someone speaks. Do they speak in a clear and concise manner? If so, their thinking is probably also orderly. In a casual conversation, not when they are "on" do they speak like a leader? If not, they are probably a faux leader that happens to have the title and position.

Technical and leadership skills are important. We all spend countless hours making sure we have the technical skills to do our jobs. It applies to all jobs- law, accounting, engineering, human resources, marketing, fire fighting, police work, sales, secretarial or technology. It is also true for our industry knowledge. But most do not spend an equal amount of time and effort developing and enhancing our leadership skills. You need competence in both technical and leadership skills yet most companies spend time and money developing an employee's technical skills throughout their career but spend much less time and money on their leadership skills. Most companies refer to these as soft skills. I would submit that we are learning during this global economic crisis just how hard it is when you do not have real and top quality leadership skills. It also seems to me that most companies wait too late in a person's career to begin developing their leadership skills.

Identifying, mitigating and monitor risks and opportunities is a leader's responsibility. We have covered in other posts the need to identify your three biggest risks and then develop a mitigation plan and a monitoring system. You can do this at any place within your organization. It can be for the company overall or for a small team. The ideal is where it is done at the top and then cascaded down throughout the organization but leaders do what they can instead of waiting for someone else. You can start with any group. Mitigate does not eliminate which is why you need to be diligent in monitoring. Now what about opportunities? Do you have a means of systemically searching for opportunities? Most of us do not. We may be great at seizing it when it presents itself but that may be too late to capitalize on it. To identify, capitalize and monitor opportunities, you have to be looking outside the company. If your organization is too insular you will miss many opportunities. Your clients and customers are the best source of data. But also watch general market trends and ask yourself what could this mean for us in the future.

Leverage the strengths of your team. None of us is perfect. Are you honest with yourself on your strengths and weaknesses? Have you surrounded yourself with people that compliment your skills and shore up your weaknesses? Have you made sure that your team has the permission to challenge and question you? Have you unleashed their talent and creativity? One time in particular I remember being totally buried at work. The result was that I was not getting out as often to meet with the people in my group or our clients. I was usually very diligent in traveling to see everyone. My team was on a conference call with me and raised the issue. My answer was that I just did not have the time. One of them asked what was eating up all my time. I explained and he and another team member offered to take over some additional administrative responsibilities from me. They did point out that it was not my greatest strength and that they were better than me at those tasks. It worked out great and I was back on the road the next week.

Common sense should always be applied and it will never fail you. There are not guidelines for every situation and sometimes there are guidelines but they are dumb. When all else fails, use common sense. When you can not reach your boss and need to make a decision, ask yourself what makes sense and then do it. Do not fall into the trap of doing something that makes no sense but your conclusion is that "it" says to do it. If common sense was used more often, we would all be better off. Now, this is another reason you need to be careful who you hire and retain. Hire and retain people with good common sense so you will be comfortable with them using their judgement on what makes sense.

While the 5 C's are interdependent, I hope you have enjoyed reading today about Competence and Common Sense. Stay tuned as we continue the 5 C's next week. As always, feel free to comment, make additions or disagree. Discussion and debate is a good thing.

Until Next Time,


  1. This is honest, very understandable and clear as crystal to me. Thank you for this very helpful post.

  2. Brian, thanks for the comment. Our leadership workshops are set up to drive home these points.

    Cheers, Mike