During one of my recent long-haul flights, I came across an article by Sophie Devonshire, the author of “Superfast: Lead at Speed” where she concluded that successful leaders are skilled at “strategic laziness” and they always smartly choosing to do less. This conclusion aligns with my personal beliefs and long-time habit of always looking for a more efficient way of doing things, maybe because I am actually very lazy.
In Sophie’s article, she made reference to Kurt Gebhard Adolf Phillip Freiherr von Hammerstein-Equord, the German Chief of the Army High Command during the pre-war period who resigned from office due to his opposition to Hitler. Kurt classified his officers into four groups – clever, diligent, stupid and lazy, but that each officer usually demonstrates behaviours in two of the four groups. The clever and diligent are assigned to the general operations. The stupid and lazy, making up over 80% of the army, are assigned to routine duties. He believed that those that are stupid and diligent must not be entrusted with any position of higher responsibility because they are mischief-makers. However, as Sophie mentioned in that article, “those that are classified as clever and lazy are qualified for the highest leadership duties because such people possess the intellectual clarity and the composure necessary for difficult decisions”.
Laziness as illustrated by Kurt, therefore, means working efficiently and effectively, and not necessarily being idle. Bill Gates has been reported to have said that “I always choose a lazy person to do a difficult job because he will find an easy way to do it”. As a business leader, if you get involved in the nitty gritty of everything, you will not be able to focus and strategise about things that are really critical to the business. Leaders are supposed to focus on strategic activities while delegating operational matters to the next line of managers.
In adopting the concept of strategic laziness, Sophie emphasized three methods of adoption – automation, delegation and prioritization. These are proven methods to enhance the operational efficiency and effectiveness of any business, large or small.