Book Review And Interview: Common Sense Leadership

Common Sense Leadership. by Garth Johns, is unlike many of the books I’ve read recently.

For one thing, Garth is a local author – working for the Regional Municipality of Durham.

For another, the book clocks in at just over 130 pages, making it one of the quicker reads I’ve had recently.

What’s more, the practical focus of Common Sense Leadership makes it more useful in terms of quick reminders than many books I’ve read over the last couple of years.

Common Sense Leadership focuses on 10 principles:

  1. Enjoy what you do.
  2. Be nice – it’s really not that difficult.
  3. Be on time.
  4. Remember – it’s a team.
  5. Communicate! Communicate! Communicate!
  6. Be customer focused – they are the reason we are here.
  7. Always act with integrity – it will help you sleep at night.
  8. Scan the horizon.
  9. Make decisions – you can’t please all of the people all of the time.
  10. Exude energy and enthusiasm.

Really simple, useful pointers.

While many of the examples in the book focus around the author’s personal (and local) experiences, I found Common Sense Leadership interesting and enjoyable, and the local perspective combined with the government context provided something I could relate to personally. So, I took the opportunity to get in touch with Garth Johns and ask him a few questions…

1. With all of the leadership-focused books out there, what made you decide to write Common Sense Leadership?

One of my concerns, having read many of the leadership books was that they often tell of the deeds of Mandela, Ghandi, Churchill, Jack Welch etc.  For the most part these outstanding examples of leaders are in a world far removed from most folks in our day to day world.  I believe leadership is not restricted to the high profile members of society but anyone who “inspires others to greater personal or professional heights”. The book was intended for those everyday leaders of our world.  The front line supervisors, union leaders, parents, teachers, coaches, Rotary Club President’s and so on.

2. The book is a quick read – only 120 pages – but covers a lot of areas. What made you decide to go for the broad, rather than deep, approach?

I wanted the book to be easy but also to be helpful.  If, by reading it, the reader is better able to help others and to inspire others then I consider it to have been a success.  I didn’t care if they knew how to lead countries or buy and sell corporations or to achieve all that MBA graduates are expected to achieve.  I just wanted to help them become better people and better leaders.

3. Given the criteria laid out in the book, who would you say are some of the best leaders out there?

Sadly, we all know some of the best leaders but they are not always those that the media immortalizes (or occasionally crucifies).  They may be our parents, coaches, managers and even some politicians.  I know of one individual who was a Rotary Club President, a business person of the year award winner and the Chair of the local hospital foundation.  He also spends huge amounts of time, energy and money on his favourite charities.  He inspires many folks.  My own father was an outstanding leader.  Where do we start?

4. While lots of your points focus on inherent competencies like attitude, many are still activities that require leaders to spend time formulating their approach. What tips would you offer for people who find themselves getting sucked into day-to-day work and away from bigger picture leadership activities?

Management involves planning, organizing, implementing, delegating and controlling.  This is what we do.  Doing it more effectively is what leadership is all about.  It is more of an approach and an attitude but it is also hard work.  It really isn’t something that you read about and start doing effectively.  That’s the purpose of the memos at the end of each chapter. They are intended to be helpful hints and reminders.  Once in a while we need to get off the treadmill for a bit and reflect upon what is truly important.  That’s where the work/life balance comes in.  That’s the value of retreating, vacationing, enjoying your time off and reflecting via meditation, yoga etc.

5. If people could come away with one nugget from reading Common Sense Leadership, what would it be?

The one nugget would be that leadership is not a birth rite nor does it come with one’s title.  We all need to lead in our lives at one point or another.  We all need to inspire others and to do our best to make the world a better place.  Each and every day we need to do our best to help somebody else.  We can’t cruise through life riding on the coattails of others and expecting them to be “the leader”.  We all have a role to play.

Common Sense Leadership is available through Garth’s website. Garth is donating $5 to the United Way for each book purchased; that makes it a win-win situation in my books.

Dave Fleet
Managing Director and Head of Global Digital Crisis at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.