How To Manage By Doing Nothing

Jan 15, 2016 1 Min Read

Mark Zuckerberg may be the poster child for entrepreneurial success as a young person, but he had to hire a chief executive officer (CEO) coach and learn how to lead.

Along his meteoric rise, he had to get an education on how to be a manager – simply being the founder and CEO of a hypergrowth company wasn’t enough.

No doubt, leadership is tough, even for the most naturally gifted business people. That’s because it feels unnatural.

You have to train yourself to overcome the innate responses that accompany regular social interaction and contend with the instinct to be liked while continually evaluating and providing feedback. Plus, you also have to fight the inclination to always be producing.

Hard work likely got you this far, but once you take on the CEO reins, your job as a manager won’t resemble work as you know it.

In fact, it may not resemble work at all, and that can be incredibly uncomfortable.

To Andy Grove, a management legend and former CEO of Intel, a manager’s fundamental job of information gathering can be one of the most unnatural and awkward.

Yet dealing with that awkwardness, even inviting it, is also a fundamental part of being a good leader.

Grove tells us, that there’s an “efficient” – but underused because it’s uncomfortable – way to get and disseminate information: To be out in the open in your company, doing nothing.

This might interest you: The Importance Of Doing Nothing


Why you should do nothing

What? Really do nothing?

For startup founders, this is anathema. After all, it was you who got your idea to this point. It was you who met and mingled with the right people to land funding. It was you who put everything on the line for your company.

And though some founders decide to bow out at this point – ceding the CEO title to a professional manager – for those who want to stick it out and maintain a leadership role, you’ll have to let go.

This method sounds ridiculously easy – or just ridiculous – but it requires you to be quite vulnerable to appearing and feeling like you’re not really doing anything at all.

Young leaders are a driven, passionate, industrious bunch. And while that same drive can be hard to reel in, you should try.

When you’re only focused on your own output, or setting an example for your team by burning the midnight oil, for instance, you’re also unavailable for conversation.

Employees feel like they’re bothering or interrupting you, and when information exchange does happen, it’s a weightier, less frequent event.

Your openness and true accessibility lowers the barriers to conversation and takes obstructive formality out of the exchange.

Conversation and word-of-mouth communication are vital, says Grove. So taking time and effort to do this “non-work” is essential, even when it’s awkward and feels unnatural and even if it means feeling like you’re standing alone at a party, without the social safe haven of your phone – open and vulnerable.


How to manage by doing nothing

Here are another three tips to consider when you’re trying to ‘do nothing’.
1. Take a stroll around the office, without a specific task in mind. Practise that leisurely pace, and overcome the natural inclination to always be and be seen working.

2. Talk to employees – even if you don’t know them. Find out their pain points and make a real effort to resolve them. That way, people will know they can come to you – their manager – to get things done.

3. Try to get more comfortable with not being friends with everyone. A manager shouldn’t be viewed as biased – even if you grew up together and spent long hours toiling on a business idea in a garage somewhere.


Walter Chen is the co-founder and CEO of iDoneThis, the easiest way to run your daily standup. He’s a software engineer and ex-lawyer based in New York. To engage with him, email us at editor@ 

Share This


Tags: Values


This article is published by the editors of with the consent of the guest author. 

You May Also Like

workplace flexibility is tiring and challenging

Unmasking Flexibility: Is it Really What It Seems

By Roxanne Calder. Workplace flexibility: Is it all it seems? Explore the truths and challenges of this post-pandemic trend. Discover what it takes to make it work.

Jul 31, 2023 4 Min Read


Datuk Sheila Majid Says Glamour Is Only Skin Deep

Dato' Sheila Majid is one of the gems of the Malaysian music industry. From a teenage girl who loved to sing at friends' parties, she has become one of Malaysia's most successful singers

Nov 19, 2014 29 Min Video

Be a Leader's Digest Reader