Are You A Lazy Leader?

As I’ve outlined in previous blogs, leadership is not obvious to many of us. We have a job description, a set of targets, a team and we are part of a business. How we act (not what we say) day in and day out will make the difference to the culture, the churn rate, the engagement of your people and lead to changes in productivity, effectiveness, creativity and innovation and, ultimately, our credibility and success as a leader.

What do I mean by lazy leader?

I first found myself using the phrase ‘lazy leader’ when talking about the coffee station conversation. You know the situation. It’s Monday morning and after you’ve opened your laptop, you go to pour yourself a coffee at the office kitchen area. Your boss is there too getting a coffee. She says to you “how was your weekend?”. So, you start off telling her about the long walk with your wife on Saturday, a trip to the local pub with friends in the evening and a game of golf on Sunday morning. What you realise is that your boss is no longer listening. She has already engaged with the next person in the kitchen, has left, or is looking at a stream of emails on her phone.

This is what lazy leadership is. This scenario, like many during every day, provides a great opportunity to make an impact on your people, to make them feel that you value them, are interested in them and want them to do well. What’s happened in this scenario is that the boss has now lost credibility. She has shown she doesn’t care and has little interest in you. However. the only way this scenario changes is if the boss takes the time to understand what your interests are and then really listens and is present. Think about someone who works for you. Now answer a few questions to see how well you know them. What’s their favourite drink? Where is their favourite holiday destination? What are the names of their children?

This got me thinking about what other examples there are of lazy leadership and whether it really is a ‘thing.’ I know now that it is. I define lazy leadership as taking the easy course of action, accepting the status quo and not rocking the boat. If you look at the definition of lazy it gives us another way in “unwilling to work or use energy or make an effort. Inactivity.”

Think about someone who works for you. Now answer a few questions to see how well you know them. What’s their favourite drink? Where is their favourite holiday destination? What are the names of their children?

Are You Lazy, or Gritty?

Here are nine different examples of lazy leadership, which I have contrasted with gritty leadership. Ben Wales and I discuss in episode 10 of the Gritty Leaders Club podcast:

    1. Lazy leaders avoid conflict and use HR or the People manager to have 121 honest conversations with their people. Whereas the gritty leader addresses the shortcomings of the team member face to face with an honest conversation in a timely fashion, using specific examples.
    2. Lazy leaders avoid regular 121 meetings with their team, always finding excuses that something really important has come up. Gritty leaders hold regular 121s with all subordinates, judging them one of their most important roles.
    3. Lazy leaders avoid asking their people how they’re doing, and don’t seek feedback. Gritty leaders ask the team regularly how they are doing as a leader and respond appropriately. Gritty leaders look for opportunities to praise their people, to motivate them to achieve more.
    4. Lazy leaders ask their people how their weekend was, and either don’t listen to the answer, walk away, or engage with someone of something else. Lazy leaders have no idea what the interests and passions are of their team members. Gritty leaders know what their subordinates do at the weekends and what their interests are and ask how this is going when they meet them in the morning, and they listen to their response, seeing it as an opportunity to develop and grow their people.
    5. Lazy leaders avoid challenges at all costs and take the easy way out, believing it to be the best way to treat a team. Gritty leaders challenge people openly in meetings e.g. for inappropriate behaviour, not living the values, or not preparing properly for the meeting. Gritty leaders will always challenge in a way that shows they care for the individual. It is never about the person, it is always about the process.
    6. Lazy leaders recruit people less able than themselves for fear of being challenged. Gritty leaders always recruit people better than themselves for key roles around them where they have shortcomings.
    7. Lazy leaders seek stability and accept the status quo and the way things have always been done. Gritty leaders challenge and question the way everything is done, looking for ‘world-class’ performance. They address people’s shortcomings, looking for innovation and creativity and new ways of working.
    8. Lazy leaders accept the way things are done in their business and their industry and see it as best practise not to be changed or challenged. Gritty leaders look outside the business and the industry to challenge existing norms and learn new ways of working.
    9. Lazy leaders accept people as they are and accept mediocrity. Gritty leaders look to challenge and stretch people, demanding more in order to grow people to fulfil their potential.

I am sure you will find more examples of lazy leadership in your organisation. Perhaps the most important thing to say about lazy leadership is this: it is selfish. It is about the leader not showing up, not challenging, not pushing outside his or her own comfort zone. That, in turn, means that people don’t get challenged and stretched. They don’t get the chance to grow and develop and, ultimately, become fulfilled in their work. Lazy leadership is all about me and not about us.

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