Leadership and Laziness

 

In my latest op-ed for the local fishwrap, I tell the tale of an old German general with the mouthful of a name Kurt Gebhard Adolf Philipp Freiherr von Hammerstein-Equord. Between the world wars, he was tasked with restructuring the military, at least until he tried to kill Hitler, which got him into a spot of bother. But how he decided whom to promote and whom to fire fascinates me from a business perspective.

He divided the entire officer corps into four quadrants, which I illustrated in the chart to the right:

  • Dumb and busy.
  • Dumb and lazy.
  • Smart and busy.
  • Smart and lazy.

Since Hammerstein-Equord was a highly disciplined German officer, you would assume he’d fire those in Quadrant 2 (dumb and lazy) and promote those in Quadrant 3 (smart and busy). But you’d have it backward.

Instead, he considered Quadrant 1 (dumb and busy) to be walking disasters, and he fired nearly all of them. The Quadrant 2’s were fine if he gave them simple, repetitive tasks, and a hearty dose of Prussian boots to the hintern.

Quadrant 3 (smart and busy) seem like they would be the cream of the crop, but to Hammerstein-Equord they had … issues. These officers were always doing something, even when nothing needed to be done. Quadrant 3’s micromanaged their subordinates, created complicated new “improvement” programs, bothered their superiors with useless information, and, while they were mired in minutiae, missed the big picture. As a result, Hammerstein-Equord never promoted them to a commanding officer level.

The real stars lived in Quadrant 4. These smart and lazy officers were promoted to the highest levels of the military. They were clever enough to see what needed to be done but relaxed enough to find the easiest, most direct way to succeed. Quadrant 4’s didn’t get mired in the details, but delegated those chores to staff — and then left them alone.

Hammerstein-Equord’s quadrant is a handy tool for business, but also for politics. When I look at Washington, I see warehouse-sized offices filled with of Quadrant 1 and 3 types. Bureaucrats are usually mocked as lazy, I’m more concerned about the really ambitious ones. Always looking to create a new climate change scheme, transgender bathroom initiative, or tome of pickle regulations. And don’t get me started on energetic politicians.

A lazy leader would see a social problem and ask, “maybe the private sector should do this,” “looks like charities are handling it,” or “I’ll let my constituents figure it out for themselves.” A position of “don’t just do something, stand there” is inherently conservative.

To quote the sainted Calvin Coolidge, “When you see 10 problems rolling down the road, if you don’t do anything, nine of them will roll into a ditch before they get to you.” The key, of course, is to recognize that one serious problem and expend your energy on that.

Published in Business, Politics
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Members have made 38 comments.

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  1. Profile photo of Michael Brehm Member

    Well, I’m definitely in the lazy column, the row varies from day to day.

    • #1
    • July 17, 2017 at 7:43 am
    • Like10 likes
  2. Profile photo of Arahant Member

    I would make a long and involved comment, but that’s too much work.

    • #2
    • July 17, 2017 at 8:04 am
    • Like20 likes
  3. Profile photo of The Reticulator Member

    For easier reference, you should have put your numbers in your chart as well as in your text.

    What quadrant does that comment put me in?

    • #3
    • July 17, 2017 at 8:07 am
    • Like2 likes
  4. Profile photo of ToryWarWriter Member

    This is not my first time reading something along these lines. But I am glad to see the original source.

    The Energetic Competents are great in war time for the most part. However they can get you into trouble. Monty, Guderian and Patton come to mind as examples.

    • #4
    • July 17, 2017 at 8:10 am
    • Like1 like
  5. Profile photo of EJHill Contributor

    I was going to write a 5,000 word rebuttal to this post but, man, that seemed like a lot of work.

    • #5
    • July 17, 2017 at 8:31 am
    • Like10 likes
  6. Profile photo of ToryWarWriter Member

    We also must remember Dumb in this case was an average IQ of 120 to 130. So dumb at that scale.

    • #6
    • July 17, 2017 at 8:41 am
    • LikeLike
  7. Profile photo of Seawriter Member

    James Blish came up with something like this in one of his stories, only the axes were Conscientious/Non-conscientious and Industrious/Lazy. Same basic conclusion – the innovator are conscientious and lazy

    As for whether this works in the military? Paging @bossmongo. Boss Mongo, please pick up the white phone.

    Seawriter

    • #7
    • July 17, 2017 at 8:43 am
    • Like5 likes
  8. Profile photo of drlorentz Member

    This post reminds me of Robert Heinlein’s observation:

    Progress doesn’t come from early risers — progress is made by lazy men looking for easier ways to do things.

    My mother never tired of reminding me that I was born on a Sunday, the day of rest. As a fundamentally lazy person, I find comfort in Heinlein’s thought.

    • #8
    • July 17, 2017 at 8:46 am
    • Like18 likes
  9. Profile photo of Percival Thatcher

    When I was living in Dayton, a challenger arose to face the Republican incumbent for state office. Her campaign emphasized that not only had he not proposed a single new law, he had voted against every new law that had come his way.

    He won in a landslide, of course.

    • #9
    • July 17, 2017 at 8:55 am
    • Like16 likes
  10. Profile photo of Blondie Thatcher

    Does my dad’s moto of “Work smarter not harder” fit here?

    • #10
    • July 17, 2017 at 9:10 am
    • Like6 likes
  11. Profile photo of She Moderator
    She

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: Instead, he considered Quadrant 1 (dumb and busy) to be walking disasters, and he fired nearly all of them.

    Yes. I spent many years of my life on the one hand wishing that some of my employees would show a bit more initiative, and then bitterly regretting that they had done so, after the fact. I’ll take the dumb and lazy quadrant every time.

    • #11
    • July 17, 2017 at 9:10 am
    • Like4 likes
  12. Profile photo of drlorentz Member

    I have a quibble about the Dumb/Lazy quadrant. Worker bees are considered hardworking and industrious, not lazy. Utah, the Beehive State, has as its motto Industry. A beehive adorns their highway signs. They didn’t put it there because they wanted to advertise that they’re lazy.

    Not sure what fits better in that quadrant but worker bees ain’t it.

    • #12
    • July 17, 2017 at 9:33 am
    • Like3 likes
  13. Profile photo of DrewInWisconsin Member

    .

    • #13
    • July 17, 2017 at 9:56 am
    • Like2 likes
  14. Profile photo of Hang On Member

    drlorentz (View Comment):
    Thanks. This really provides some insight. For example, we have someone in leadership position who hovers somewhere between Quadrant 1 and 3. (Because I can’t quite decide if he’s smart and hiding it, or if he’s as dumb as I sometimes think.) Either way, you can see the result: Micromanager and/or Problem Causer.

    Busy-ness will destroy us. It’s certainly doing a number on me.

    It isn’t only that. Innovators usually are problem makers as well. And worker bees who get promoted usually turn into micromanagers.

    • #14
    • July 17, 2017 at 10:12 am
    • LikeLike
  15. Profile photo of Pilli Member

    Blondie (View Comment):
    Does my dad’s moto of “Work smarter not harder” fit here?

    I walked into the luncheon after the company Vice President gave his annual talk and introduction of new products. This was my 10th year. I was looking for anyone out of the 1500 people in the room I might want to dine with. A voice to my right said, “C’mon. Sit here with us.” It was the company VP. So I sat there with him and a few other managers I had never met. He asked what I thought of his “talk”. I quipped, ” Ya know Bernie, I’ve been coming to this for ten years now. And every year you tell me to work smarter not harder. And every year I go back and work smarter…so much so that now after ten years I’m a F***ing genius. All because of you.”

    He laughed for 5 minutes. Thank goodness.

    • #15
    • July 17, 2017 at 10:13 am
    • Like12 likes
  16. Profile photo of DrewInWisconsin Member

    .

    • #16
    • July 17, 2017 at 10:14 am
    • Like1 like
  17. Profile photo of DrewInWisconsin Member

    drlorentz (View Comment):
    I have a quibble about the Dumb/Lazy quadrant. Worker bees are considered hardworking and industrious, not lazy. Utah, the Beehive State, has as its motto Industry. A beehive adorns their highway signs. They didn’t put it there because they wanted to advertise that they’re lazy.

    Not sure what fits better in that quadrant but worker bees ain’t it.

    “Lazy” isn’t the right word. I agree. I can’t think of the appropriate word that might mean “slow down and focus.”

    • #17
    • July 17, 2017 at 10:16 am
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  18. Profile photo of Judge Mental Member

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):

    drlorentz (View Comment):
    I have a quibble about the Dumb/Lazy quadrant. Worker bees are considered hardworking and industrious, not lazy. Utah, the Beehive State, has as its motto Industry. A beehive adorns their highway signs. They didn’t put it there because they wanted to advertise that they’re lazy.

    Not sure what fits better in that quadrant but worker bees ain’t it.

    “Lazy” isn’t the right word. I agree. I can’t think of the appropriate word that might mean “slow down and focus.”

    It seems to be tied to be being an ‘agent of change’. Worker bees are not agents of change.

    • #18
    • July 17, 2017 at 10:20 am
    • Like1 like
  19. Profile photo of The Reticulator Member

    Blondie (View Comment):
    Does my dad’s moto of “Work smarter not harder” fit here?

    You do that by getting someone else to work harder for you.

    • #19
    • July 17, 2017 at 10:37 am
    • Like1 like
  20. Profile photo of drlorentz Member

    Hang On (View Comment):

    drlorentz (View Comment):
    Thanks. This really provides some insight. For example, we have someone in leadership position who hovers somewhere between Quadrant 1 and 3. (Because I can’t quite decide if he’s smart and hiding it, or if he’s as dumb as I sometimes think.) Either way, you can see the result: Micromanager and/or Problem Causer.

    Busy-ness will destroy us. It’s certainly doing a number on me.

    It isn’t only that. Innovators usually are problem makers as well. And worker bees who get promoted usually turn into micromanagers.

    Umm… you quoted someone else’s comment.

    • #20
    • July 17, 2017 at 10:45 am
    • LikeLike
  21. Profile photo of drlorentz Member

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):

    drlorentz (View Comment):
    I have a quibble about the Dumb/Lazy quadrant. Worker bees are considered hardworking and industrious, not lazy. Utah, the Beehive State, has as its motto Industry. A beehive adorns their highway signs. They didn’t put it there because they wanted to advertise that they’re lazy.

    Not sure what fits better in that quadrant but worker bees ain’t it.

    “Lazy” isn’t the right word. I agree. I can’t think of the appropriate word that might mean “slow down and focus.”

    Right, but you can’t change the word at the top of the column without messing up the lower-right quadrant. That’s the trouble with trying to shoehorn ideas into a simple quad chart.

    A smart and lazy guy once said something along the lines of “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

    • #21
    • July 17, 2017 at 10:52 am
    • Like3 likes
  22. Profile photo of barbara lydick Member

    In business, we refer to quadrant 1, Dumb and Busy, as loose cannons.

    With respect to #s 1 and 3 in politics, a WFB, Jr. story: He had been talking with a young lad (about 10 yrs old) and asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. The lad replied that he wanted to go into politics – to help people. Mr. Buckley turned and quietly asked the adult standing near him whether they could interest the lad in emigration.

    • #22
    • July 17, 2017 at 11:52 am
    • Like6 likes
  23. Profile photo of profdlp Coolidge

    Arahant (View Comment):
    I would make a long and involved comment, but that’s too much work.

    Good thing you were smart enough to realize that.

    • #23
    • July 17, 2017 at 1:34 pm
    • Like1 like
  24. Profile photo of Jon Gabriel, Ed. Chief
    Jon Gabriel, Ed. Post author

    Blondie (View Comment):
    Does my dad’s moto of “Work smarter not harder” fit here?

    Absolutely. The key is to focus on what needs to be done rather than just flailing about and chasing every perceived problem.

    • #24
    • July 17, 2017 at 2:36 pm
    • Like2 likes
  25. Profile photo of Jon Gabriel, Ed. Chief
    Jon Gabriel, Ed. Post author

    For what it’s worth, here is Hammerstein-Equord’s full quote:

    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.

    But this quote of his is my favorite:

    Regulations are for the stupid.

    • #25
    • July 17, 2017 at 2:38 pm
    • Like8 likes
  26. Profile photo of Seawriter Member

    Jon Gabriel, Ed. (View Comment):
    But this quote of his is my favorite:

    Regulations are for the stupid.

    Explains why so many people want to work for the government.

    Seawriter

    • #26
    • July 17, 2017 at 2:42 pm
    • Like10 likes
  27. Profile photo of blood thirsty neocon Member

    I think we need to add a personality dimension to categorize Trump: plus or minus jerk. That makes him a smart, lazy, jerk. Of course, no one fitting that category has done anything great lately.

    • #27
    • July 17, 2017 at 3:14 pm
    • Like2 likes
  28. Profile photo of Percival Thatcher

    blood thirsty neocon (View Comment):
    I think we need to add a personality dimension to categorize Trump: plus or minus jerk. That makes him a smart, lazy, jerk. Of course, no one fitting that category has done anything great lately.

    Well, there’s a difference between a jerk and a blowhard.

    There is, isn’t there? Right? Why are you all laughing? What is so funny?

    • #28
    • July 17, 2017 at 3:28 pm
    • Like4 likes
  29. Profile photo of Postmodern Hoplite Member

    Von Moltke would be proud to see the update!

    • #29
    • July 17, 2017 at 4:02 pm
    • Like3 likes
  30. Profile photo of cirby Member

    blood thirsty neocon (View Comment):
    I think we need to add a personality dimension to categorize Trump: plus or minus jerk.

    I use a “smart/clueless” versus “nice/evil” grid for the convention business, for customers.

    About 80% of clients fall into the “nice but clueless” quarter, a small amount are in the “evil but clueless” area, a very few are “smart evil’ types, but the handful of clients I love working for are in the “smart and nice” zone – and the majority of them are fairly lazy, when you get right down to it. Which is fine, because they’re smart enough to hire good people to do our job – and trust them to get things done instead of them having to watch over us every second…

    • #30
    • July 17, 2017 at 4:03 pm
    • Like3 likes
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