Complacency – A Hidden Leadership Sign of an Underperforming Culture

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Complacency can be a well hidden leadership sign of an underperforming culture.  Complacency is defined as self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies.

When it comes to safety and high performance, complacency can be dangerous. The military has a mantra that “Complacency Kills.”  They are rightfully trained to never let complacency set in due to the constant and evolving life-and-death threats they face. And the business world is littered with once great companies (especially technology companies) that failed to reach their potential like Sun Microsystems, Digital Equipment, Nortel and Nokia that many blame on leadership complacency.

While being self-satisfied doesn’t sound so bad, it is a hidden leadership sign of an underperforming culture.  Being pleased when your competitive landscape and customers are constantly evolving is not a good thing if you want to stay ahead of the pack. High performing leaders ensure their teams stay on their toes and keep one step ahead.

When things are going well, it is easy for a leadership team to feel content, take the foot off the gas pedal and coast. This approach can be especially dangerous when coupled with a lack of awareness of competitive threats or industry shifts.  To avoid cultural complacency as a leader, ensure that you are always comparing yourself, your team and your company to something better.

Comparisons are powerful. We make them all the time to answer questions of how tall, how short, how fast, etc. we are compared to others. In performance terms, if we truly desire improvement, our primary comparison must create a sense of dissatisfaction with our current performance level.  For example, one of the best ways to become a better skier is to ski with better people.

As a leader, what are the warning signs that a new performance comparison is required to fight complacency?

  1. A sense of satisfaction, especially success-driven satisfaction
  2. A feeling by your team of ‘we are doing all we can’
  3. Repetition of time-worn performance behavior rather than innovating new performance behavior
  4. Push back or disbelief in the possibility of greater outcomes
  5. Protection of current status rather than advancing to new positions

Even though most leaders know that complacency is bad, most struggle with how hard and how far to push their teams to get higher performance in a healthy way.

To learn more about leading and creating a high performance culture to avoid complacency, download The Science Behind How Much a Leader Should Push to Get Higher Performance

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