6th April 2016

Cultivated Laziness

What got you here won’t get you there is a truism. The things that smooth the way in one part of our lives very often get in the way in other parts of our lives. One of the ironic paradoxes in the journey of any entrepreneur is that the traits and behaviours which are so necessary at the inception of their growing organisation are the exact same behaviours and traits that can get in the way as the organisation matures.

The typical entrepreneur is someone who is impatient, driven, visionary and eager to change the world to give birth to their business or to change the world by their business, in some way large or small. In fact Peter Drucker defined the entrepreneur as someone who “always searches for change, responds to it, and exploits it as an opportunity.”. They are active agents of change, often iconoclastic in nature. Very often restless, not needing anyone else’s permission or help. They just drive on, get started and make things happen. Very often the preferred modus operandi is not to wait around for someone else but to just seize the moment and get on and do it themselves.

All of this is very impressive and laudable, but the same people often end up bemoaning that the rest of the world just doesn’t react and act fast enough. They try to offload tasks to their team, often explaining the task and the reasons for the task badly and get frustrated that things don’t get done with the same speed and competence that they might have achieved themselves and so they snatch it back and do it themselves, so guaranteeing that their own workload isn’t lightened and more importantly the person to whom the task was delegated has had no chance to learn how to do it right.

Worse than that, we even manage, inadvertently, to train our subordinates to be helpless. Learned helplessness is the term we apply to the psychology that the smallest babies learn. They know that if they cry long enough someone will feed them. In adulthood it manifests itself slightly differently. If I make a mess of a task I probably won’t be burdened with that task ever again. It worked for me. When I was asked to help with the laundry I managed to get all the colours mixed up. I was never asked to do the laundry again.

Someone with slightly more patience and tolerance than an entrepreneur might have persevered and taught me that screwing up the laundry just meant that I had an oddly coloured wardrobe but I still had to repeat the task. I would have learned from my mistakes.

I hear so many people bemoaning the fact that they can’t get people to do things as well as they could. The answer isn’t to take it back under your own wing but to persist and help the other person to learn.

So that impatience, that urgency, that self reliance that played such an important part in the birth of the enterprise could be precisely the cause of the business getting stuck as we try and fail to delegate accountability and responsibility to the team that work with and for us.

If what got you here won’t get you there then you need to be able to develop the behavioural flexibility that allows you to be able to apply all of the right behaviours at the right time or accept that you and the business might remain stuck. Perhaps one of the traits that we would be advised to cultivate is an attitude of laziness. If we were lazy enough we would make sure that our priority was getting the work off our desks to the people that really should own it and getting the monkeys off our backs so we can focus on the things that we and only we can do; which is leading and managing the people and the business.

“What got you here won’t get you there” is also the title of a book by Marshall Goldsmith that I would recommend for all business owners and leaders.