I don't think laziness has ever been a defining trait of mine, as I've founded or co-founded several successful businesses. But I've certainly found myself in situations where "lazy" and "unlikely to succeed" seemed like reasonable accusations.
I was largely homeschooled growing up. My parents taught my brother and me by allowing our innate curiosities to navigate our education. If astronomy was captivating us, we'd be encouraged to explore it almost exclusively for weeks or months, unlike traditional schooling which mandates a subject-balanced curriculum.
This approach revealed inexorable links to fields of study that didn't initially motivate us. For example, it became obvious that mathematics knowledge helps one understand physics, and history knowledge better informs what types of social activism may be effective.
By treating our curiosity as a sacred instinct, my parents enabled an environment where abilities like information synthesis, knowledge applications, and self-guided learning, all became second nature.
But when I tried traditional school (which dictated the courses I'd study and how I'd study them) I went from a ravenous learner to totally disengaged. In fact, I dropped out of primary school and college multiple times from waning interest. To the untrained eye, I was either lazy or stupid. In reality, the conditions that helped me thrive as a passionate student had been taken away.
How to bring out greatness in employees
Similarly, extracting greatness from an employee may require yielding a lot of control over how that employee accomplishes objectives, and works with others to establish and maintain a tight alliance between job duties and their sincere interests and competencies.
I suggest not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. Just because an employee is unlikely to love 100 percent of their job duties or cannot be given 100 percent control over how to fulfill them, doesn't mean you should make no effort to get them closer to that goal. As a leader, you will be helping your employee maximize their value and set them up for success.
Since the early days of my company, Neurohacker Collective, I've found that enabling unconventional freedoms increases the value of team members. My brother Daniel thrives as a night owl, so we let him work at midnight when most of us are working at noon. We also had about 30 job roles needing fulfillment when we could only afford 10 early-stage employees. In the particularly chaotic and fluid work environment of a startup, we encouraged peer-to-peer negotiations to divvy up roles and responsibilities based on innate curiosity and motivation. This was far more successful than trying to dictate everyone's precise roles.
Cognitive scientist (and friend) Scott Barry Kaufman wrote this piece in The Atlantic, highlighting research that shows how curiosity and motivation are nearly as crucial as IQ in predicting human success. When you sense an employee is an intelligent and passionate person, but something is being lost in translation in their work, you may have a value-add employee that is not in a value-add circumstance.
My future as a successful entrepreneur was not predicted by many teachers from traditional schools who couldn't separate my potential as a student from their approach as an institution.
We are born curious and motivated to learn. It is a beautiful human characteristic. Building a bridge between the increasingly passe "normal way of doing things," and the conditions and roles where an employee senses they could thrive, is a defining leadership competency in our rapidly changing work environment.
The value an employee contributes to your organization, and the best niche for their talents go hand-in-hand. I'm glad my life history made me acutely aware of this fact. It has enabled my empathy to understand these same needs in my employees.