Common Sense Versus Common Practice

As a hobby of sorts, I attend a number of major college athletic events every year. I suppose I do so in an effort to be in the presence of greatness — and I am rarely disappointed.

For years (make that decades) and regardless of where I wind up sitting in the stadium or arena, I have found myself in close proximity to vocal expertise.

For instance, when a positive outcome on the field of play transpires, these experts sometimes don’t even bother to outwardly acknowledge it, they simply turn to whomever is within earshot and exclaim something profound like:

  • “They simply can’t guard us!” or
  • “We could get that all night if we wanted it!”

Those of us fortunate enough to hear this analysis quietly smile at our good fortune. Conversely, if the opponent is getting the upper hand, we have the opportunity to hear an unsolicited account detailing all of the things our team is doing wrong:

  • “We are woefully unprepared,” or
  • “We simply can’t attract the kind of talent we need to win at this level,” or maybe
  • “We are clearly getting out coached!”

Because of these cumulative experiences, I have come to the realization that competitive athletics (regardless of the sport you happen to be observing) is simple … when you view it from the stands. You primarily just wait until an outcome has occurred, then pass judgement.

It is really much the same with leadership in an organizational setting. At some level, everybody is an expert armed with an opinion grounded in personal experience. When things are going well, organizational experts bear striking similarity to the anonymous sports fan in the row right in front of you:

  • “Why in the world would you want to work anywhere else?” or
  • “It is so good to see all of our hard work paying off!”

When there is conflict, discord or substandard performance, it is not uncommon to hear these analysts saying things like:

  • “I could have told you long ago she was going to leave; it amazes me no one in management saw it coming” ; or
  • “How do you expect anyone to provide a suggestion when it’s clear no one in a position of leadership around here cares one way or the other?”

The other “blinding flash of the obvious” I feel compelled to share is that, at their core, athletic competitions and organizational leadership really are pretty straightforward. In football, you block and tackle (how many times have you heard a commentator say, “This game is going to be decided in the trenches?”). In basketball, you rebound, you pass and, on defense, you stay between the person you are guarding and the basket. In leadership, you communicate a vision, get (and keep) others motivated to achieve it and become an “execution animal.” It’s simple! It’s common sense!

The challenge for all of us is to translate common sense into common practice. Understanding what needs to be accomplished is so very different from actually accepting the responsibility to ensure that it does. It is analogous in the context of the preceding paragraphs to leaving your seat in the arena to assume a position of prominence on the sideline and sending in a play at a clutch moment in a game that your team really needs to win. It’s just so much easier to sit right where you are, wait until something happens and then provide “expert analysis” on what went well … or what didn’t.


  1. Identify a challenge (in your family or with your job) that merits attention. Consider the variables (and potential consequences) and then take discernible action.
  2. Immediately after taking action, assess what went well and what didn’t and plan your next step.