[December 17, 2013] One would think that in the United States where rewards are given for the proper exercise of a person’s mental prowess, that the majority of people would strive to improve themselves intellectually. Furthermore, one would expect leaders to be encouraging others to improve their knowledge and intellectual abilities. Sadly, this is not the case.
Intellectual laziness comes in many forms – spending the majority of one’s spare time on entertainment (e.g., television, computer games), failure to stay abreast on advances in your field of expertise, not stimulating your thinking ability through reading and conversation, and adhering to the belief that you “can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
In a complex world that demands higher levels of technical abilities than ever before, means that those who are most likely to succeed will be consciously improving themselves through formal (e.g., school, on-line courses) and informal techniques (e.g., reading, social interaction).
The incongruous reality is that while intellectual improvement is valued, intellectual laziness is encouraged. Most people would agree that a well developed intellect is helpful. But, there are those who believe otherwise – people believe they are due something just because they are a U.S. citizen (e.g., welfare, perpetual unemployment compensation) or because of their victim status.
In addition, many leaders fear that emphasizing intellectual improvement will backfire on them when employees fail to live up to expectations. Other leaders believe that it is simply too hard to provide either encouragement or resources to help. Providing additional motivation for the employee, therefore, is a risk some weak leaders are simply not willing to take.
What to do about the problem of intellectual laziness and leadership enabling those individuals, is the big question.
While one of the most prolific topics in books and business articles is “leadership,” one will find that intellectual laziness is simply not often discussed. Admittedly, some of the writings do address how to develop good employees, yet the big “elephant in the room” – intellectual laziness – remains untouched.
Leaders must first recognize the problem, understand the risks, and have the courage to shine some professional light on the subject. Having a “suggested reading list” or helping underwrite some generic college course is not good enough.
It will take leaders talking to other leaders and developing openness about the problem that they themselves have helped enable. Then it takes action.