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Lazy is a Lie

Updated: Nov 4, 2021

Sadly, it is common to hear a team member casually referred to as “lazy” when they don’t perform their work as expected. In fact, we even call ourselves lazy when we don’t meet our own goals and standards. However, lazy is a demoralizing lie. It’s a convenient and, candidly, abusive phrase that masks other behaviors and emotions that need real attention.

By definition, lazy is unwilling to make an effort. In my coaching practice of leaders and executives, I have yet to meet someone who actually isn’t willing to make an effort. Just the opposite. Many are high-performers who can burn out getting ten times more done than anyone else, while others are new in their roles and haven’t hit their stride yet. Behind the appearance of unwillingness is very real fear, confusion, overwhelm, low self-confidence and missed opportunities for communication.

The Connection Between Values and Accountability

Getting things done well, and on time, builds trust and confidence. That’s the foundation of accountability – which exists both within ourselves and between each other. Getting there is not always a straight path, and organizationally we may overlook critical steps that occur before setting objectives and priorities. Then we are disappointed with the resulting absence of accountability.

According to Psychology Today, there are seven factors that block our effective efforts:

  1. Lacking conviction of our own effectiveness

  2. Lacking sufficient emotional support

  3. Needing—but expecting to not receive—recognition

  4. Lacking self-discipline—arising from low self-esteem

  5. Lacking interest in the endeavor itself

  6. Ambivalence—lacking faith that the action will be worth the effort

  7. Fear of failure

The article describes each of these powerful influences in some detail, but ultimately, they boil down to a lack of clarity on our own values or a disconnect between our values and those of others who are asking us to do something as a part of our role.

Our values are the source of motivation, self-awareness, self-confidence and self-directedness. When we live into those values every day, we behave intentionally, and move towards our goals, even when it is difficult. We are attracted to careers and organizations that have similar or aligned values we believe in as much as our own. And when we are asked to do something, we assess how well the task, however menial or mundane, helps us live in our values – which give even the mundane activities a deep sense of meaning.

Likewise, when an organization is clear about its values, and demonstrates how its employees can match each task to a value, then accountability becomes a common thread that runs throughout everything.  

Leaders as Coaches

When we accuse a team member of laziness (not that you would ever do that) we are abdicating responsibility for their performance. Coaches empower their clients to find their own answers, and do so by asking powerful questions, then providing equally powerful tools. Here are several powerful questions to simultaneously restore both our power and the team member’s power:

Q:  Do you have the tools you need to be effective?

Q: How can I/we support you?

Q: What would feel like a great way to celebrate completing this?

Q: Why is this important to you?

Q: Is this (role/responsibility) one you really want?

Q: What will be the outcome if this isn’t done? What will be the outcome if it is done?

Q: What obstacles do you expect to encounter? How will you handle them?

While these questions may seem simple, they are ones we rarely ever stop to ask. Instead, we go with the flow, attempting to do what is expected of us, hoping it works out, and experiencing the dissatisfaction, lack of clarity, and overwhelm that come from being out of alignment with our values. We get irritated and anxious when others behave exactly the same, as if they are the ones who have let us down, failed to be accountable, and broken our trust.

As leaders, we have the ability to show the way, busting through the dingy lie of laziness, and uncovering the diamond of meaning and motivation that is inside us all.

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