“First do no harm” is one of the main principles of medical ethics. It means that whatever the situation, sometimes it is better to do nothing at all, than to do an activity and risk causing more harm.
This is not a feature of normal management thinking, where work activity is the key attribute that is measured and monitored, encouraged and rewarded, promoted for and recruited to. Answering phonecalls to processing benefit claims, managing projects to achieving objectives set in annual apprisals. Activity is considered valuable, as it can be seen and monitored.
Doing nothing at all is unlikely to be on the radar of a person keen to be noticed for accomplishing tasks. As such, doing no harm by doing nothing, is not a rewardable strategy. Thus…
A busy manager is a good manager.
But I posit an alternative.
A busy manager is a dangerous manager.
There was a Prussian Field Marhsall who knew this. He divided his officers up into 4 types based on their level of initiative or activity, and their intelligence.
This is what he said:
“There are only four types of officer. First, there are the lazy, stupid ones. Leave them alone, they do no harm…Second, there are the hard- working, intelligent ones. They make excellent staff officers, ensuring that every detail is properly considered. Third, there are the hard- working, stupid ones. These people are a menace and must be fired at once. They create irrelevant work for everybody. Finally, there are the intelligent, lazy ones. They are suited for the highest office.
Of all four permutations, the most dangerous are the stupid and energetic officers. I don’t believe that intelligence is something you have or are, but something you do. It is a verb, not a noun or an adjective. So you can act stupid, but not be stupid. But it is very easy to convince yourself that you are NOT acting unintelligently, so how do you know, what to do? Rest on the side of laziness I say.
In a command and control environment where activity is king, be lazy rather than busy, at least you are more likely to be doing no harm. They’ll hate you for it, but at least you’ll have time to catch up on your reading.