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Making the case for lazy leadership

Have the confidence to do nothing.

Imagine an action film where Kate Beckinsale or Bruce Willis have to sit down for a couple of days to think about what they are trying to achieve and how they are going to achieve it. Once they have agreed that a very obvious good has to triumph over a very obvious evil (wouldn’t we all love for our decision to be dichotomous?), they realise that if they do a couple of things with the right timing, they will overcome the world domination plans of the baddy, without any particular effort. They realise that traveling half-way across the world dangling out of a helicopter will actually achieve nothing.

It is so interesting to watch the delegates on our courses make the assumption that the default course of action is to do. Do something, whatever that is. In my particular experience of the Leadership in Management course, during a project, I was trying to agitate my team, and get them to do stuff (which was all completely pointless come to think about it), until I realised that actually, in that particular case, the best thing to do to support the general effort was to sit in the sun, and wait for orders. The more agitated my team and I were, the more pressure we put on the decision-making team and the less able they were to plan.

I had a bit of a lightbulb moment then but not because I realised that sometimes the best course of action is to wait. My lightbulb moment came because I experienced the courage it took to say “right now the best course of action is to do nothing”.

In real life, I have watched so many people on the hamster-wheel, believing that being on the verge of burn-out is a key performance indicator. They believe that because they are tired, they deserve to succeed. But life just doesn’t work that way. You can exhaust yourself and never get anything from it, apart maybe resentment towards those who aren’t grateful for the efforts that no one asked you to make. It is easy to feel important and wanted when you are busy, especially if you have clever colleagues who realise that you will do their job for them.

How much courage does it take to get out of that frame of mind? A lot. Because this isn’t just about rationally reframing your approach to work, it is about exploring deep inside, asking yourself why you are behaving the way you are. Then it is about taking action on the root causes of those behaviours, and then watching how you change, and how life just gets easier. But in between the now and the then, you will probably have to go through some pretty intense emotional pain.

I am not sure that the film idea I pitched to you would make a blockbuster. It is often a film that we, in real life, don’t want to be the protagonists of. The appetite for action movies comes from the fact that the heroes run around and go from one fight to the next with no time to breathe, think or reflect on why they are doing what they are doing. It just needs to be done. That is soothing, because in real life, most of the time, the killer is having to accept that “doing” is only a tiny bit of the equation.

So right now, I am making the case for being lazy. Get to where you want to get to with minimum effort. Question everything you do and ask yourself whether it is getting you somewhere, and if not, either do something else, or don’t do anything at all. Just be.

 

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