Project Practitioners > Procrastination - A Critical Leadership Tool

Procrastination - A Critical Leadership Tool

By Niel Nickolaisen

Some young-punk kid (he is about 35 years old) recently stopped by my office. He wanted to interview me about any great leadership tips I had and was willing to share. I paused for a moment, reflected on a lifetime of lessons learned, mistakes made, successes earned, and how these translated to a critical leadership tool. I then replied:

"Procrastination."

This poor kid could not believe what I had just told him, "Procrastination? Do you really mean procrastination?"

I replied, "Absolutely; and the sooner you learn how to procrastinate, the better you will be as a leader."

I then tried to explain. Often, when there is some project, personnel, or technical crisis, our being in a leadership position compels us to think that we must act. We must do something. We must solve the issue, provide the answer, or somehow take charge. After all, we are leaders and that is what leaders do. However, oftentimes, the best thing we can do is nothing. Whatever problem, issue, or crisis exists, it will likely best be resolved by those closest to the problem, issue, or crisis. Rarely do I have the context to provide a meaningful intervention. So, I procrastinate and see if it all works out. In other words, I do best by doing nothing.

For example, one day a member of my staff came to me and told me that he was about to kill one of his IT peers and he wanted me to do something about it. I maintained eye contact, expressed empathy, and told my petitioner that it was really important for my members of my team to be able to work together. My expression of concern was enough to get him to leave my office. I then did nothing. I did not talk to either party. I did not mention the incident to anyone.

About five days later, I asked my staff member if he was still having a problem with his peer. “No”, he said, “we worked it out.”

My procrastination was a conscious choice. Had I involved myself in this dispute, it would have appeared to either one or the other that I was choosing sides. And, by doing nothing, not only did they work it out themselves, I suspect their solution was better than anything I would have suggested or demanded.

Procrastination works equally well with project and technology issues. As long as I make clear that I am not taking ownership for the solution, I have found that my teams are able to work things out without my taking bold action. And, if they can’t it becomes pretty clear pretty quickly. If the problem persists then I know it is time to end my procrastination and get involved. But, that does not happen very often. If I am building good teams and adequately explaining what we are supposed to deliver, I have found that teams perform. And as they perform, I can spend my time turning procrastination into an art.



Comments
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Niel,

I absolutely agree!

It took me a long time to realise, but procrastination really is the best leadership approach on occasions.

Think back to a time before you were the person people came to with their problems; didn't you take "issues" to your manager - hopefully with a menu of potential solutions?

And weren't you often frustrated that the manager procrastinated?

And didn't you just resolve it for yourself as a result?

Ta-da!


I agree on the staffing example, however, if your team is waiting for a decision from you, procrastination may not be the best action (or non-action), unless you make it clear you are expecting the team to resolve it on their own.


Excellent... but i think I'd call this MYOB rather than true procrastination, or maybe wait-and-see. The key here is that other people are actually responsible. When it's just your own stuff you're avoiding (my idea of true procrastination) leaving it for others to figure out (usually) won't help.


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