“Lazy” typically isn’t a word you’d like people to use when describing you, especially in the workplace. But guess what? Being lazy is a good thing!
As a manager, you want to help your employees. And that’s great — until it isn’t. When an employee comes to you with a problem, your tendency may be to jump in and offer advice. While your intentions are noble, you may end up helping where it isn’t needed or taking over the conversation altogether.
You go into rescuer mode, it’s understandable. You’re trying to add value and help out wherever you can. But at the end of the day, you’re exhausted because you’ve taken on more than you should have, and your team member is disheartened because responsibilities were taken away from them. You thought you were helping as best you could, but instead you limited their opportunities for growth and created a scenario of victim versus rescuer.
The easiest way to avoid this scenario is to, well, be lazy. Instead of swooping in with all the answers, ask questions. And especially, ask the laziest coaching question of them all: “How can I help?”
This is the laziest way to find out what your employee needs from you. By asking something like this, you force the person to decide what they need exactly — they might not even know yet themselves. (Often employees come to a manager with a problem, but the real issue is something completely different, which the employee realizes only after being asked what it is they want.) Alternatively, they know what they need and will tell you, in the hope that you’ll agree with whatever it is. Either way, asking the lazy question creates a win-win situation, as it results in a clear and direct request that will lead to the solution your employee is looking for.
By asking this lazy question, you avoid jumping in to help in the way you initially think is needed — no more rescuer mode! Asking questions is a self-management tool because it keeps you lazy and yet shows your curiosity.
Be lazy and also be blunt (which is ultimately the best way to be lazy). Just go for it. Ask your employee, “What do you want from me?” Of course, be mindful of how you say this, because not everyone will like this blunt version, but you catch my drift. Ask your employee, really, truly, “What can I do to help?”
It sounds easy, but it can be hard to resist the temptation to jump in and help someone, or to offer advice. However, in the end, you’ll find that asking the lazy question makes you more useful to those you manage, and it will help you work less hard and have more impact. I bet that after trying this out, you’ll agree that being lazy is a good thing after all.
For useful tips and tools for improving the way you lead, check out the Box of Crayons blog. We often share blogs like these:
Michael Bungay Stanier is Senior Partner of Box of Crayons, a company that helps organizations do less Good Work and more Great Work. It is best known for its coaching programs, which give busy managers practical tools to coach in 10 minutes or less.
Download free chapters of Michael’s latest book, The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever, here.
How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.