Why Clever And Lazy Leaders Are More Efficient

Why Clever And Lazy Leaders Are More Efficient

BELLE BETH COOPERBUFFER NOV. 15, 2013, 9:47 PM 2,563 2


I don’t like to think of myself as lazy, but when I came across the ideas that inspired this post that suggested being lazy and clever could make you an excellent leader, I was a little less inclined to shrug off the label. This theory revolves around very broad, general behaviors, rather than labelling specific people, but it seems like an interesting way to classify what we’re good at and what kind of roles we fit into.The four types of behavioral traits

There’s some debate about who developed the classification system I’m about to introduce to you. Some say it was Erich von Manstein, who was regarded as one of Germany’s best military strategists during World War II. However, others believe it was Kurt Gebhard Adolf Philipp Freigerr von Hammerstein-Equord. von Hammerstein-Equord was Germany’s Chief of the Army High Command before the second world war, and was once described by von Manstein as “… probably one of the cleverest people I ever met.”

For our purposes we’ll credit von Hammerstein-Equord with the quote that he divides his officers into four groups based on their behavioral habits:

There are clever, diligent, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined.

So the groups are set as follows:

clever and diligent

stupid and lazy

clever and lazy

stupid and diligent

To map it out into terms of the 21st century, we could see it like this:


Surprisingly, stupid and lazy officers were not seen as the worst of the bunch:

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.

This probably applies to those who are diligent but uninformed, as well. The problem being that any work done by these people is unnecessary or pointless—they simply need to be pointed in the right direction by someone else to make their hard work worthwhile.

Most surprising to me, however, was that those who are both clever and lazy are apparently quite good to have around:

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.

What it means to be clever and lazy

Laziness seems like a terrible trait to have, but according to these two military leaders, it depends on what other traits it’s paired with. In particular, whether someone is both lazy and clever.

How can that be good for us, and why do such people make excellent leaders?

As you saw in the quote above, von Hammerstein-Equord believed people who are clever and lazy are good at making difficult decisions. This comes from their desire to make everything simpler and easier, while having the mental clarity to find clever ways to do so.

Clever, lazy people often have the following characteristics which make them good leaders:

they avoid “busywork,” such as pointless meetings

they delegate to others to get things done

they focus on the essentials required to move forward, rather than being distracted by unnecessary extras.

The result is that as leaders, these people can be more efficient and productive than they would be in a more routine, low-level position.

Why being clever and hardworking isn’t the best combination

At first glance, it might seem like being both clever and diligent would be the best combination you could hope for. While it’s not necessarily bad, von Hammerstein-Equord actually allocated these people to his General Staff, or what might be similar to middle management today.

The difference in these people who aren’t lazy is that they’re more likely to follow instructions and simply work hard at what they’re told to do.

Those who are clever but lazy tend to question existing processes and look for ways to streamline their work rather than simply getting it done.

Clever and lazy people often don’t mind standing out by asking questions and trying out new approaches, whereas many clever, hardworking people simply want to fit in.

For those who are clever and hardworking, however, being self-employed could be the answer to avoiding blending into a big company. As self-employed experts, clever and diligent people tend to do well.

Remember, this is a very broad categorization that doesn’t necessarily apply to all people. I do think it’s an interesting starting point, however, in thinking about how we work and what types of roles we fit into best. What kind of role do you think you’d be best for?

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: