lazy man photo

You may think about the people you work with and wonder how some of the irresponsible individuals there have done so well. You may know a senior vice president whom you regard as lazy, who has never taken on a tough or challenging assignment that wasn’t forced upon him. You may be aware of another top executive who is brilliant at making excuses and keeping himself untainted by failure.

Don’t believe for a moment that you can get away with this type of behavior. It inevitably will come back to haunt you. Yes, some irresponsible people do well in business. Sometimes their success is due to the highly political nature of their companies— gamesmanship is the primary competency in these cultures. Fortunately, the majority of companies aren’t political hotbeds. They may be political, but not to the point that the most successful employees are those who are experts at manipulation. Most savvy leaders can quickly spot brownnosers and connivers and don’t want them on their teams.

It is also true that people with great skills and expertise can become so valuable that they don’t need to act responsibly. For example, the quintessential A student may believe herself so smart and competent that she’s going to do well just about anywhere, even if she is lazy and rarely does something because it’s the right thing to do.

Tell yourself that you’re not this A student. You are more likely to be rewarded for who you are rather than how well you apply your knowledge to the job. I’m not suggesting that you’re incompetent, only that you’re going to be judged on broader criteria than your competencies.

Finally, you may know some top executive in your organization who acted irresponsibly in some way but seems to have gotten away with it. As a result, you may tell yourself that you, too, can get away with fabricating a credible excuse for why a project came up short or refusing to volunteer for a task that needed doing but would have taken up a lot of your time.

Don’t fool yourself into believing any of this. Don’t rationalize your irresponsible behavior by telling yourself that you only acted this way once or twice or that you can join another organization and start with a clean slate. Your behavior will catch up to you. If you act irresponsibly once and suffer no negative consequences, you will probably do it again. Eventually, your behavior will form a pattern that defines how you behave in work situations. Recall the blank piece of paper I discussed in the previous article and how you determine what words are written on it about you. Eventually, “irresponsible” will make it onto that list. Even if you leave the company and join a new one, your behavioral pattern will assert itself. You may have a clean slate when you first join the new company, but you’re likely to revert to form and act irresponsibly over a period of time.

lazy birds

Gil, for instance, had charm to burn, and he often used it to escape unpleasant tasks and convince others to help him with jobs that he should have been doing on his own. A former athlete, handsome, and glib, Gil received a series of promotions early in his career. He started as a salesperson for a large corporation and did well, quickly moved to another organization of equal size, and within five years had received two promotions. His superiors knew that Gil manipulated others and found ways to avoid tasks he didn’t like, and they had talked to him about this shortcoming. To Gil’s credit, he tried to address these issues. After a few months of trying, however, he fell back into his old patterns.

man sleeping at work

A managerial opening came up in the company’s hottest division—several senior executives had held this position, and it was considered a stepping-stone to the management ranks. Gil openly campaigned for the job and was convinced he would get it, since the only other person he was competing with was Nancy, whom Gil saw as a “plodder.” While it was true that Nancy didn’t have Gil’s charm, she inspired much more trust and respect in the people who worked for her than Gil did. She never blamed others when a project she was involved with didn’t succeed, accepting responsibility for whatever went wrong.

Nancy received the promotion, and when Gil heard that he hadn’t been chosen, he went into his boss’s office and protested that one of the job’s requirements was wining and dining their top customers. “Nancy isn’t half as good as I am at showing clients a good time,” Gil said.

His boss replied, “She may not be half as good at showing them a good time, but she’s more than twice as good at showing how committed she is to meeting their needs.”

Convince yourself that you don’t want to follow in the path of a successful but irresponsible individual you know by asking yourself the following questions:

lazy people image

How would I feel if my child were to act the way this person acts at work?

Would I hire this individual if I had my own business? Would I feel comfortable giving him important assignments that had a significant impact on the business?

Do I feel that his expertise is more important than his character? If I had to make a choice, would I rather have someone working for me who was highly skillful or highly dependable?

How many different ways can you think of that this person might cause problems? Might she prompt others to resent her because she slacks off and always blames others? Might this individual bring her boss or team down by not pulling her weight on projects that she’s not particularly interested in?