Management Matters – YES You Can Develop Common Sense in Others

You may have slept through those classes where the instructor covered Aristotle. If so, you probably missed the useful information about managing others. Not only did Aristotle think we should spend time thinking about how we get things to change – he thought we should spend time trying to determine IF we should change and HOW best to go about making the change.

With an overall feeling on time pressure (some of which is imagined) reflection on character, virtue, and goodwill can sound like outdated concepts in today’s workplace, but managers today can shape the development of their employees. Ethical reflection is critical in today’s professional environment and it is incredibly useful to ask these kinds of questions and help employees formulate answers.

We often are amazed that “common sense” doesn’t actually appear all that common today. The study of social phenomena (aka phronetic social science) is the study of common sense (Yup! It’s an actual area of study.) There is genuine value to taking the time to think about and discuss what actions are good and what action are not so good (AKA bad) to take. Taking the time to discuss, reflect, and get consensus on issues such as:

  • Where are we going?
  • Is this desirable?
  • Who gains, who loses, and by what mechanisms of power?
  • Should we do anything about it? Can we do anything about it?

Aristotle noticed that young people lacked the maturation for acquiring this ability (phronesis). Managers may not find younger employees and not so young colleagues sensible or cautious and there is a good reason for that (and it isn’t because “kids” today are just so _______ (fill in the blank!)). It’s because good common sense comes with experience, something young (and new) employees get with time and opportunity. While employees can learn about what to do in specific work situations, application in real time with actual work situations contain details that are fully fleshed out that no one could have foreseen. These require real world experience.

In short – you can learn a lot from books, the internet, video, lectures, and training, but there is no substitute for real world, actual, hands-on experience (this goes for failure as well as success).

While honesty may be prized, in some situations or with poor execution, people can find it offensive. Speed may indicate a sense of urgency, but there is something to be said for caution. Communicating may be the way of the social media world but discretion is a valued (and sometimes scarce) commodity. C-Suite executives, managers and supervisors who are phronetic understand this complexity. The wise ones help their employees develop the ability to think first, reflect, and then act based on the goals and contexts they discover.

So, if you too wonder why common sense isn’t more common, it might be because no one is developing people for it. If you are in a position to develop talent, this key skill is one that should get your time and attention.

Joni Daniels is Principal of Daniels & Associates, a management consulting practice that specializes in developing people in the areas of leadership and management, interpersonal effectiveness and efficiency, skill- building, and organizational development interventions. With over 30 years of experience, she is a sought after resource for Fortune 500 clients, professional organizations, higher education, media outlets and business publications. Joni can be reached at

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