Eagles are powerful hunters and some of the world’s heaviest birds. When flying, they save energy by riding thermal updrafts rather than flapping their wings. What would otherwise require effort becomes much easier thanks to the eagle’s energy-saving instincts. Nature loves to conserve energy, and we don’t see this as being “lazy”—we admire it for elegantly maximizing finite resources.
Yet, many entrepreneurs recoil at the thought of taking a step back and prefer to maintain a persona of always being busy. As the cofounder of a fast-growing startup, I’ve come to appreciate the wisdom of nature and that the key to strong leadership lies in strategic laziness. Strategic laziness doesn’t mean saying no to any task that requires work. Rather, it means evaluating every activity based on whether the outcome justifies the effort and deciding if the leader is the best person for the job.
Does the outcome justify the effort?
Everything has an opportunity cost. Many people take routine high-effort projects for granted, but a leader’s first instinct should be to question whether the “juice is worth the squeeze.” This strategic laziness not only helps to protect the organization’s limited resources but also drives breakthrough innovations.
When I first started Truework, an identity verification company that automates tasks such as income verifications for mortgages, I fell into the trap of using high-effort processes simply because they were the industry standard. We initially modeled our income verification process after best-in-class companies, all of which started the process by taking down the user’s information by mail, phone, or (occasionally) fax. These questionnaires featured dozens of questions, and each manual transcription took time and left room for errors.
Following my lazy tendencies, one day I got fed up and asked my team why we were using a manual process and was there a better solution? With some brainstorming and quick work, our team created an industry-first, self-service questionnaire for income verification applications. This innovation saved us a third of the effort and thousands of man-hours to date.
Many breakthrough innovations come from leaders who disrupt unnecessary processes. Just look at how Netflix has cut out the painful process of exchanging DVDs or how Uber has reduced the need to stand on the curb and wave down a taxi.
Is the leader the best person for the job?
Leaders uniquely have the full purview of the entire organization and many decisions can only be made by the leader. Unfortunately, leaders also usually have more on their plate than they can handle, and it is extremely important that he or she focuses on the most strategic challenges. This is another area where leaders need to be strategically lazy.
Some entrepreneurs fill their days with endless activity—this becomes a part of their identity. However, if a founder is managing day-to-day tasks that can be effectively delegated, he or she may just be performing a “work charade,” filling the day with activity simply to feel valued rather than allowing others to step up. “Lazy leaders” always seek to be replaced over time by encouraging greater autonomy and growth amongst the team so that the leader can tackle new challenges.
My company often takes on complex audits that require a deep technical understanding of our product. Responses can involve hundreds of pages of documents, and audit outcomes are instrumental to our ability to attract large customers. Last year, I hired a new head of security to lead the process. Initially, I was worried that he wouldn’t be able to keep up with these intense technical audits, and because of my fears, I continued shouldering the bulk of the responsibilities. This took up a significant amount of time and prevented me from focusing on scaling the team.
As tasks started piling up, I began to feel overwhelmed. I also realized that my new head of security—an individual with extensive experience hired specifically to handle audits—was not getting an opportunity to shine. After months of working overtime, I decided to be strategically lazy by sitting out the process and letting my colleague drive. I was pleasantly surprised to see that when I stepped back my head of security naturally stepped up, and we passed the audit with flying colors. Moreover, I now had more time to recruit and onboard top talent, which has been critical to the success of my growing company.
A leader’s sense of strategic laziness drives the transition from task-oriented doer to strategic manager. My cofounder Ethan Winchell once said it best when, faced with the decision to hire a more junior role or a more senior and expensive role, he stated, “I want to manage less, not more.” Ethan’s hire may have cost the company slightly more in salary, but ultimately better served everyone by freeing up his capacity for more strategic decisions—all because Ethan was being lazy.
As a founder, I have seen firsthand the need to make the most out of limited capacity, whether in delegating tasks or eliminating them altogether. Companies are like eagles taking flight. As the leader you get to decide: would you rather be the lazy eagle that effortlessly rises to new heights or an overwhelmed bird that runs out of steam and crashes to the ground?
Victor Kabdebon is the cofounder and CTO of Truework.