6 Ways A Leader Wins by Doing Nothing

“Just Do it”

“Make it happen”

“Be a Doer”

So much of leadership is about getting things done and accomplishing goals. As such, business leaders are often fixated by activity, motion, and action. The more that is done the better.

As a leader, however, there are times when it is best to do nothing.

  1. By doing nothing, the leader can maintain the business focus on the important goals.
  2. By doing nothing, the leader can develop the autonomy and accountability of the team.
  3. By doing nothing, the leader can better listen and understand what is going on in the business.

As Tim Ferris writes in his book, The 4-Hour Workweek:

“Not-to-do” lists are often more effective than to-do lists for upgrading performance. The reason is simple: what you don’t do determines what you can do.


But, doing nothing is incredibly hard for most action-oriented leaders. To help out, I suggest some areas where leaders should force themselves to do less or do nothing.

  1. Talking: By stopping our constant talking, we force ourselves to listen and hear what the other person has to say. Especially debilitative are the times when we leaders must get the last word in. We need to struggle and restrain ourselves from doing so. Instead, we can let the ideas of our team carry the day without our interjection or seal of approval. It will be their decision for which they are then accountable.


  2. Correcting: It is difficult for many of us to realize that not everything needs to be perfect and that not everything needs to be fixed right now. It is preferable to purposely ignore trivial mistakes. By correcting errors or focusing on issues that are not critical, the leader deflects the team’s attention away from the vital few towards the trivial many. As Pope John XXIII commented, a leader should…

    See everything; overlook a great deal; correct a little.

  3. Satisfying Our Curiosity: Today especially, we are all overwhelmed with endless distractions. Many of us who are over 35 have grown up in an age of relative information scarcity. Now that there is information overload, we often indulge ourselves by following up on all pieces of information in order to satiate our curiosity and satisfy our hunger for information or knowledge. We have become informationally obese. To slim down, resist the curiosity pangs and do nothing. We need to ask ourselves:

    How will reading the morning paper in detail change our lives?

    What chance is there that the next website or blog has deep and relevant insight?

    Much of the information that we encounter is irrelevant to our lives and possibly disruptive to our well-being. Following up on it all inevitably leads to wasted time, distraction, and the accumulation of additional facts and/or tidbits, but without additional understanding.

  4. Initiatives: Most established businesses already have enough going on to completely drown the workers on the front line. I have seen countless small business units facing onslaughts of 10, 20, even 26 corporate initiatives that the team is tasked to fulfill. Stop the madness! While each initiative can likely be justified as necessary, is it really vitally important that they all be done at this time? If you have to undertake a new initiative, then cancel or postpone 1 or 2 on-going programs to give your team the time and breathing space to get the new initiative done correctly.


  5. New Business Development: As with the overload of new initiatives, many businesses are focusing on far too many new business or market areas. The key to effective business development is to first ensure that you are executing on your current business and satisfying your current customers. The second key is to focus on just the few highest potential new business or market areas. As Peter Drucker and countless business strategists have screamed:

    The most important and difficult part of strategy is deciding what not to do.


  6. Working All the Time: Especially here in the U.S., there is a point of pride in always being busy and working. Still, the constant 24 / 7 / 52 dedication to the job often hinders performance and most certainly destroys work-life balance. Instead, we should set up guidelines to not work or even surf the internet after a certain hour in the evening and for at least one day a week. We will sleep better, relax, and re-charge the batteries. For us workaholics, this will be the hardest test of our ability to do nothing. To be untethered from the computer, the smart phone, and the office for a whole day will likely bring on withdrawal symptoms and cravings to check the Internet or the E-Mail. Resist resist resist. When we get back to work, we will realize that we really did not miss anything that earth-shattering; the show did go on. And we may also have realized how pleasant it was to spend a whole day fully engaged with family and friends, doing nothing special.

    Dolce Far Niente (The Sweetness of Doing Nothing)


About David Shedd

David has been a President - CEO - COO of an up to $350M group of manufacturing, distribution, specialty retail and services companies, having led 22 different businesses from turnarounds to start-ups to fast growth companies.
This entry was posted in Leadership, Personal Success and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to 6 Ways A Leader Wins by Doing Nothing

  1. Pingback: 9 Keys to Driving Cultural Change | Tech Guru Shop

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