Can you be a great business leader if you’re lazy?

Ben Breen quotes Von Hammerstein-Equord:

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.

Ben then argues that clever and lazy people make good modern business leaders because they:

  • insist on taking the time and space required to create, and to find new ways forward;
  • are natural delegators;
  • are always looking for simpler, easier ways to do things;
  • focus on the essentials, and despise ‘busywork’;

But perhaps a better description than “lazy” would be “always looking for scalable solutions which reduce brute labor and complexity”. My experience is that finding those solutions requires hard work.

5 thoughts on “Can you be a great business leader if you’re lazy?

  1. I agree with your alternative description for the label “lazy”. I can’t think of a more inapt term to describe someone who is assiduous enough to identify and figure out ways to improve the way forward. It’s often easier to find a temporary fix to a problem, than a strategic, sustainable, simplified one. And a lazy person knows better than anyone that the most effortless route is one of complacency, ignoring issues altogether. It takes hard work and conscientiousness – dare I say “diligence” – to identify problems or opportunities and to see these new solutions through to fruition.

    Perhaps people were different in those times, or in the military context specifically, but I would disagree that diligent people are necessarily too compliant or unlikely to dissent. Or maybe I’m just being defensive because I’d consider myself clever-diligent, and I’ve set my long-term goals higher than middle management. If these four groups apply to the business world, and I’m a diligent employee who is willing to dissent, I’m either less clever or more lazy than I thought 😉

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