Is a lazy streak essential for visionary leadership?

We are all familiar with segmentation quadrants. Some are based on consumer habits from say TGI which tend to fall into demographic quadrants like older; younger; better off; less well off. Others are based on the life of a brand as in gaining share; losing share; niche; mass. We use one for different types of communication styles at MediaCom based on whether you prioritise tasks or people, whether you tell or ask.

Baron Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord, a German general who was famous for being an ardent opponent of Hitler and the Nazi regime (see, had a quadrant system for managing his leadership team. As this was pre-2nd World War the need for politeness and political correctness was obviously nil. Hammerstein’s system was to divide his officers by whether they were clever or stupid, diligent or lazy. He said “Those who are stupid and lazy make up around 90% of every army in the world, and they can be used for routine work. The officers who are clever and industrious are fitted for the highest staff appointments. But whoever is stupid and industrious is a menace and must be removed immediately!“

There is one quadrant remaining, and this Hammerstein reserved for the top leadership duties: “The man who is clever and lazy however is for the very highest command; he has the temperament and nerves to deal with all situations. “

This is not an approach that had occurred to me before, and it has made me think. Are you better suited for leadership if you have a lazy streak. Does this make you more likely to delegate effectively and unlikely to micromanage? It is certainly the case that managers who can’t let go of key projects tend to have teams reporting to them who lack independence of thought and action. It is also the case that laziness in senior managers is quickly picked up by the team who work for them and this can become the predominant work ethic. Maybe you need to be clever enough to hide your laziness – and if you’re clever enough to do that, you’re ideal for leading from the top.

My very first top boss – Ray Morgan – used to walk round the media department laughing at how hard everyone else was working. His theory was that there was really no reason that you shouldn’t be finished by lunchtime and out on the golf course by the afternoon. My very first immediate boss – Christine Walker however set my working hours as roughly 8am till 8pm. This work ethic amongst his department was presumably how Ray got to the golf course by 1pm. Nice work if you can get it as the old saying used to go.

Comments are closed.