The Uncommon Sense of Leadership

By P. Ernest Parker, Jr. 

The idea that leadership is not common sense is a valid point of view that calls into question the notion that anyone can be a good leader without learning or developing the necessary skills. While some people are born with specific leadership qualities, authentic leadership requires acquiring diverse skills, knowledge, and behaviors through experience, training, and self-reflection. Leadership necessitates, among other things, the ability to inspire and motivate others, effectively communicate ideas, make difficult decisions, and manage conflicts. These abilities are not necessarily intuitive or shared by everyone. Different situations and contexts necessitate different leadership abilities, making it even more challenging to regard leadership as common sense.

Many successful leaders have spent time and energy developing and improving their leadership skills through education, mentorship, and practical experience. They are constantly learning from their mistakes, seeking feedback, and adapting their talents to meet the changing needs of their teams or organizations. Furthermore, the notion that leadership is not common sense emphasizes the significance of continuous learning and development. It implies that leadership is a journey, not a destination, and influential leaders must constantly learn, grow, and refine their skills.

While some aspects of leadership may come naturally to some people, the idea that leadership is not common sense acknowledges that numerous skills and behaviors must be learned and developed to become a successful leader. By understanding and embracing this concept, individuals can take proactive steps to improve their leadership abilities and positively impact their teams and organizations.

Solid empirical research indicates that leadership transcends common sense and competence. Many people believe that effective leadership solely depends on academic learning and experience. Contemporary studies suggest otherwise. According to Anderson and Adams (2006), 90% of disenchanted followers have failed leadership expectations. As a result, many leaders fail to meet their followers' performance and intrinsic expectations. Given the implicit partnership between leaders and followers and the critical role of leaders in performance achievement, this statistic is concerning. 

Organizations must elevate leadership development to a strategic imperative to cultivate a cadre of capable leaders. Organizations must recognize that the VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) world necessitates a paradigm shift in leadership's strategic relevance and the response to nurturing those elected, appointed, or self-appointed to positions of authority. Leadership appears to be a comprehensive system involving the interrelationships between leaders, followers, and the situation rather than a standalone concept. VUCA leadership with heightened awareness and strong spiritual and moral values is required in today's world. This shift necessitates an internal leadership transformation that drives external behavior. Organizations must take deliberate steps to foster internal leadership transformations to develop a character profile that includes spirituality, morality, ethics, and other virtues.   

Organizations cannot transform independently; they must be transformed by the people who serve them. Proper emotional intelligence can help leaders better understand personality and the various intuitive approaches required to engage different characters. Leaders need sound inner engineering that goes beyond competence; common sense is insufficient to weather today's stormy seas. Warren Bennis (2009), a leadership theorist, noted consensus among leaders worldwide that leaders are made, not born; that leaders do not plan for leadership, but rather, it emerges as an expression of their character and purpose in their chosen role. According to Bennis, leaders self-actualize through passion, identifying their purpose through a spiritual journey that reveals what they are meant to do with their lives. Taking the journey is a deliberate lifelong endeavor that necessitates enormous discipline and grit to stay the course, resisting the easy path and summoning the courage to pursue purpose. To reveal authentic and genuine leadership, deep inner soul searching is required.

About the Author: 

P. Ernest Parker, Jr. is a CPA with an MBA/MS in general and strategic management from Indiana University's Kelly School of Business. He is a partner at HLB Liberia and is pursuing an executive doctorate in strategic leadership at Regent University. He consults on a wide range of financial management and accounting policy challenges. You can reach him at