Consider a graph with two dimensions: clever/stupid, and diligent/lazy. Where do you fit? Where do you want to be? Do clever and lazy make the best leaders?

Consider an apt (if admittedly unsettling) example from history: Erich von Manstein, one of the top strategists in Hitler's German Military, described Kurt Gebhard Adolf Philipp Freiherr von Hammerstein-Equord, the former commander-in-chief of the Reichswehr as "... probably one of the cleverest people I ever met."

Both men, according to Ben Breen, are widely credited with the following quote that gets to the heart of the matter.

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.


Let's look at the diligent workers first, whether clever or stupid. Diligence is a virtue, right? We should all be diligent! Well, the diligent and stupid workers are obviously a drain.

I've worked at several places that see themselves as prestigious, high paying and where lots of people want to work. This is where I've seen the practise known as 'face time'. This is where people deliberately get in early, stay at their desks all through lunch and leave late. Just to be seen by the boss as 'being busy'. In fact most of them would be surfing the web or chatting with their pals as soon as the boss was out of sight.

What these people work hard at is keeping up the appearance of being busy. Often this means inventing pointless work for themselves or others, so called busywork. Many of these people may in fact be lazy as well as stupid - the effect is the same. It's all about creating the impression of working hard.

The point isn't that these folks are "stupid" in the classical sense, they just can't focus on the most important things. They invest energy into things that seem important or look important, and they make sure that they're always busy with something. Anything. Kind of like cancer.

What about the people who are diligent and clever? The most important thing is to avoid putting these folks into jobs they're stupid at. E.g., you're an awesome engineer, let's put you in charge of an engineering team! Oh, you're stupid at management, so you never get promoted again and you stay in a job you suck at.

The stupid and lazy? That's a no-brainer. Bye-bye.

How about the clever and lazy? Assuming they have integrity, the argument here is that these will be your best leaders? Why?

These people insist on taking the time and space required to create, and to find new ways forward.

They are natural delegators.

They are always looking for simpler, easier ways to do things.

They focus on the essentials, and they despise 'busywork'.

According to this argument, a clever, lazy person with integrity will be focused on achieving goals with the least amount of wasted effort. In this context, "lazy" isn't a pejorative.

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