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The Art of Lazy Leadership

Recently, I was given the opportunity to read a draft of Jim Smith’s Lazy Teacher’s Handbook and offer up a few thoughts; I’ve morphed the title of this blog post from it.  Rather than encouraging teachers to be lazy it provides suggestions for doing important aspects of the job more effectively and efficiently.

Photo Credit: Ian Lee via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Ian Lee via Flickr cc

The Lazy Leader’s Approach to Prioritising

The long list of jobs that need doing, many of which will never get done, haunts many leaders’ waking hours.  I’ve become utterly ruthless about what I prioritise as the years go by.  I’ve blogged and tweeted this out many times; if it’s not a 9 or 10/10 it’s a no.  If it’s a “no” it doesn’t ever make it on to the to do list.  I’m sticking to it more and more these days and insisting other do too.  It’s gone from being a mantra, to an aspiration, to a way of working.

Key was learning to control my “yes”; more “noes” equals better “yeses”.  Like many other people I want to be part of the team, supportive of others but this often comes at too greater a cost.  As you become more disciplined; if others aren’t equally disciplined, they can very quickly load far too many unimportant tasks onto your agenda.  I think I’ve become a better leader as I’ve ruthlessly prioritised; doing those things which matter most to pupils and staff.  I also hope it’s enabled others around me to lead better; they understand the importance of the 9 or 10/10 rule and apply it.  In addition, I no longer inundate them with low impact, low importance jobs.  Pity the poor teacher led my those which overload them with unnecessary tasks and ways of working; this is at the root of the workload issue in schools.


The Lazy Leader’s Approach to Planning

Over the decades I’ve produced some pretty impressive development plans, even if I say so myself.  One in early headship had about fifty objectives in, each with their own development page summary – title, person responsible, outline of issue, resources needed and success criteria with associated means of evaluating – plus an action page plan.  A number of the governors were excellent at reading through them and commenting; I ensured senior leaders did the same but for the overwhelming number of staff they were an irrelevance.  The plans took an age to produce and update.

The Trust’s current five year plan is on one page with a second page consisting of key actions for the year; four or five against which I report progress to the Board.  Planning is important but you can overdo it.  At their best, plans help people focus, give a sense of priorities and gets the organisation moving in the same direction.  To do this they have to be read.  Think how many local authority strategic plans, for example, came your way over the years and how many you read; ditto for your staff.  Keep plans brief and to the point; save yourself and others a load of time.

The Lazy Leader’s Approach to Being Organised

You can’t take up a lazy approach to leadership if you are continually running around.  You’ve got your priorities; you’ve got your plans.  Now you’ve got to get the job done.  A couple of times a week a look forward to activities, events, meetings coming up in the next three to four weeks.  Some tasks have quite long lead in times, for example, papers for Directors’ Meeting, whilst others like preparing for a meeting I like to do no more than a day or two in advance.  Some larger tasks need to be chunked down and completed over a few weeks; this requires planning into your busy schedule.

Working backwards allows me to make sure I have things done in good time; hopefully avoiding last minute panics.  A couple of tips; be systematic, I only use Google Calendar and Tasks.  No two calendars or separate lists, everything is in one place.  Tasks that need doing have to be matched to available time.  It’s no good putting ten tasks on a day you have back to back meetings or lessons; they won’t get done.  Life won’t always go according to your plan, so leave some time available on a day to sort the mundane or the emergency; if not needed get ahead with some of your tasks.

The Lazy Leader’s Approach to Getting the Job Done

Photo Credit: Ihtatho via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Ihtatho via Flickr cc

Focus or forget it; this is one I’m still working and failing on.  It’s far too easy to flick onto twitter or my latest distractor, 2048 (highest score so far 80,492; took some practice).  Emails are another nightmare; continually flicking on and off the various inboxes I have.

There are various techniques suggested in management books and on websites but they all require you to stop faffing about and actually do the job.  You’ll find your own way; I tend to work best when completing something well in advance, so it’s ready to go, or leaving it to just before the deadline.  The latter focuses the mind as I hate missing deadlines but is also fraught with danger.  The unforeseen emergency can easily implode your day.

The key is not to sit at your desk getting nothing done; if it’s not happening, forget it and come back to it later.  Use the time more productively chatting/planning/getting another job done with family, friends or colleagues.

The Lazy Leader’s Approach to Perfection

“Leave perfection to God” was one of the most liberating statements I ever heard on a leadership course.  I had spent far too long in my career trying to perfect this or that document or activity.  Not everything needs to be executed to near perfection; the time costs of perfecting things aren’t always worth the effort.  When looking at an activity, event or set of documentation try to think about the standard required.  You don’t want it to be sloppy but you do need to consider what is good enough.  The time saved can be invested in other important aspects of your work or home life.

I hope my approach is beginning to lead to an efficient focus on the few things that matter most.  It’s that or I’m just getting old and slowing down.



6 thoughts on “The Art of Lazy Leadership

  1. Thanks. Good read and true!

    Posted by J Hatch | February 18, 2017, 10:57 pm
  2. Lots of really good, grounded and practical advice here, Stephen. Thank you!

    Re: focus/distractions – what has worked for me is being careful about priorities and the order in which I do things. When I have a long list of jobs I identify the unpalatable ones first and get them out of the way, and I only allow myself to spend time on things I find more appealing (including things like Twitter and emails) once that’s done. I know – I’m a tyrant!

    And it may be just me, but I hate the word “lazy”…. Don’t even really like the suggestion that being efficient and effective is anything to go with laziness. I was asked to read Jim Smith’s latest book too and have to say that one of things that put me off is that I really don’t like the title! I know it’s a bit tongue in cheek, but even so… Think that may just be my hang-up.

    Posted by jillberry102 | February 21, 2017, 7:48 pm


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