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The Power of Lazy Leadership

A family member who married into my family, once said, “You Litvins are so lazy.”

I took it as a compliment!

When you’re an entrepreneur, laziness isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. It’s a sign that you look for shortcuts. It’s a sign that you’re more interested to build a team than to be a rugged individualist.

I didn’t think I was particularly clever at school. Throughout my high school and much of my university experience—up to and including my Master’s program—you were assessed mainly on the number of facts you could retain.

I don’t have the best memory, so I had to look for shortcuts, to get by. 

I was bored throughout my university career and I did the minimal study possible. I spent the majority of my time reading books that I found fascinating, meeting interesting people and having deep conversations. 

I didn’t know it at the time but I was sowing the seeds for my future career. Back then I thought I was lazy…

Lazy people make the best leaders

Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord was a famous German general, known for his opposition to the Nazi regime.

He said: “I divide my officers into four groups. There are clever, diligent, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined.

Some are clever and diligent — their place is the General Staff.

The next lot are stupid and lazy — they make up 90 percent of every army and are suited to routine duties.

Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the intellectual clarity and the composure necessary for difficult decisions.

One must beware of anyone who is stupid and diligent — he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always cause only mischief.”

For Hammerstein, it was better for a leader to be clever and lazy than clever and hard working.

Accidental productivity

In a world that prizes productivity over creativity, if you spend your days reading or talking to people, you seem lazy. Whereas if you spend an inordinate time staring at email you seem busy. 

Leaders are often obsessed with productivity and efficiency, hard work, careful planning and massive action and they misunderstand a crucial point:

As Rory Sutherland , vice-chairman of Ogilvy Group UK, points out: 

“If you look at all the really important breakthroughs made in any field, what you will find is that the unplanned, unintended or fortuitous connection plays just as great a role as the planned, the processed and the organised.”

My one line business plan, for over 15 years, has been, “Meet fun and interesting people.” I’ve literally made millions of dollars from connecting with fascinating people. 

I have a high value on adventure and a low threshold on boredom and I’m constantly making things up. 80% of my coaching and teaching programs didn’t exist two years ago.

An addiction to answering email rarely creates as much money or impact as the simplicity of meeting interesting people or making stuff up!

It puzzles people at first
to see how little the able Leader
actually does
and yet how much gets done.

But the Leader knows
that is how things work.

After all, Tao does nothing at all,
yet everything gets done.

When the leader gets too busy,
the time has come
to return to selfless silence.

Selflessness gives one centre.
Centre creates order.
When there is order, there is little to do.

– The Tao of Leadership

Slow and lazy

I’m writing this from a hotel room, overlooking the beach, in Santa Barbara, California. This is my third 4-day solo retreat in the past six months.

I’m training myself to get over the guilt of not seeming to work hard. I’m watching my favorite shows on TV and staring out at the ocean.

It’s counter-intuitive but being slow and lazy often leads to unexpected answers. Being slow lets you see unexpected possibilities that most people miss. Being lazy has you create unexpected solutions and innovations.

It’s in the unexpected that you can create a great deal of income and impact.

Laziness means not working hard. It does not mean not working. 

Success is a combination of real effort, ravenous curiosity, deep reflection and a ferocious protection of your time off. 

It’s time to go stare at that beach again…

Love. Rich


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