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Leaders Have to Learn to be Lazy (Trust me on This!)

Updated: May 11, 2021

As I write this, my wife and I are currently on a river cruise on the Rhine River. The ship is wonderful and as with most cruise ships, the rooms have access to satellite TV. The other day, I was fiddling with the remote control for the TV and found out that half the channels, all the news channels, were not accessible.

This was a short lived glitch but it got me to thinking about the gist of this blog post. Here I am, on a cruise, and for a brief nanosecond, I got upset that I couldn’t have access to all the bad news in the world!

There is something I have been preaching for years when making speeches or being on panels on leadership. And that is how you, as a leader, need to know when to let go of work and relax. Simply put, when to be lazy and unwind.

I, like many of you reading this blog, are Type A personalities, many in very fast-paced, stressful and all encompassing careers. You were hired because you had the skills, knowledge and personality to work hard, get results, innovate and create positive results for your companies. Folks like us thrive in these environments.

We often complain about having to deal with a myriad of problems when you are a leader e.g., Budget/HR/Personality issues on top of the daily issues you have to deal with in any given profession. Mine was (and still is to a certain extent) Security. Though most of us won’t admit it, we thrive when confronted with problems that we and our teams can eventually solve. After all, how do you test yourself, your resolve, your intellect and your imagination, if you don’t have problems to confront and overcome.

However, this way to live and work hard to overcome problems and further your career aspirations, is a double-edged sword. Because many leaders don’t know when to turn off their Type A jets and unwind and “be lazy.” Now I am not talking about being a sloth (though my wife finds sloths cute and wonderful creatures!) What I am talking about is learning to savor and use your down time wisely.

In my previous life as CSO at Microsoft, even on vacations, you had to make sure you were connected as invariably, some security incident would occur just as you were about to enjoy your first margarita (in my case, a Vesper) of the vacation. But that comes with the territory. Those are exigent circumstances.

What I am talking about is not routinely answering emails while on vacation or during your off hours. How many of you are guilty of not only responding to non-urgent emails when off duty, but pinging your direct reports on email, text etc., when you should be offline. I’ve been guilty of that and earlier in my career, was called on it by some of my directs who told me that I was on vacation and that I should stay off email – that they were taking care of the fort and that I should enjoy vacation. They were right!

Leaders need to learn the art of being lazy and relaxing when they can. You are no good to anyone if you are constantly frazzled, stressed out and up tight. Not only are you not doing yourself any good, you are not modeling good leadership to your troops. Leaders who constantly bombard their direct reports with non-critical email, texts etc., when your direct reports are on vacation or enjoying their weekends, will only emphasize to your directs that this is the proper way to behave, and it isn’t. They will feel like they too, have to be “on” and available to answer silly emails 24/7.

They will then not only not be able to relax themselves, when they should be recharging their batteries, they will instill these same bad traits to their directs when they become people managers themselves. It is a vicious cycle.

It just amazes me that how many leaders don’t get this and sadly, never will. I’ve had leaders myself who would pester me on weekends and holidays over non-critical issues and would in effect, ruin my time off. That is being selfish. Just because you, as leaders, haven’t learned the discipline of taking your time off wisely, doesnt mean you have the right to impose that lack of discipline on your team and get them on edge.

Real leaders need to model this behavior. Yes, when emergencies happen, and they will, its all hands on deck, whether you are on vacation or not. That is a given. That is the job. But in non critical situations, I challenge managers who want to be real leaders, to really use your down time to unwind and recharge. And just as importantly, not to unduly affect your team’s down time by pinging them with unnecessary communications. Let them have their time off with their friends and families and leave them alone.

And for you non-people managers out there, the lesson is the same for you too. Take your time off. Don’t you also get in the trap of working when you should be taking time off. I used to emphasize to mentees all the time that any entity, whether it be the CIA, or Microsoft, do not love you.

They give you wonderful careers, experiences, friends for life, health benefits etc. But at the end of the day (and I would tap the wall of my office for emphasis) these entities don’t love you and will use as much of you as you allow them too. They don’t care if you work every weekend and on holidays. And at the end of a 20-30 year career, you may look back on a successful career but one where you missed too many birthdays, anniversaries and special occasions due to your always “being on.” You don’t get those days back. You never will. Life is short. Time is short. Work hard but learn to be lazy!

By the way, this is not work for me so I have the right to blog on this cruise. Now time for that Vesper!

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