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  • Writer's pictureHassan Younes

Failing to Re-Evaluate (And 6 More Issues That Leadership Complacency Causes)

Updated: Feb 13, 2023

Seeing your business prosper is incredibly fulfilling. But if you get too comfortable, you can lose not only your competitive edge but possibly your entire business as well.

How is your business doing?

Do you go to work every day and admire how smoothly everything is going? Or maybe you don’t feel that you need to show up most of the time as there’s really nothing for you to work on?

As much as this sounds like a dream come true, it’s actually the first symptom of complacency. It’s natural to feel proud of your achievements and take a moment to celebrate. But a moment can quickly turn into believing that things couldn’t get any better.

When this happens, the only way for your business to go is down. Complacency is a poison that can drive your business to the ground before you know it. Here are some of the symptoms of complacency:

1. Failing to Re-Evaluate

I’d like to illustrate the dangers of complacency through my own example. During my career, I started a good number of businesses that went on to achieve great success. In fact, they were doing so well that there wasn’t any point of me working on them anymore.

Or so I thought.

In 2012, I had a booming childcare business. It was operating at 95% capacity and raking it in. I didn’t really think it could get any better, so I decided to turn my weekends into three-day breaks. Then I added another day. Eventually, showing up to work became a very rare occasion for me.

The income was so good that I felt like nothing could hurt the business, so I pretty much stopped working altogether.

Then it all started going downhill. My complacency allowed the business model to go completely outdated. The business had no marketing plans anymore and the payroll expenses went out of control.

My complacency started spreading through the entire organisation like a plague.

Management and educators became too comfortable and the quality of our services reached an all-time low. Parents started complaining to the Government of Education, which almost shut down the business. The cash flow went from 95% to 55%, and eventually 34%.

Both my business and family suffered, and that’s when I saw the consequences of complacency.

Luckily, I was able to snap out of it. Once I became clear-eyed about the state of the business, I found a cure for complacency. My SUGAR strategy drove the business from 34% to 113% capacity in no more than a year, reaching a new record.

Unfortunately, not every business owner manages to save their business once complacency kicks in. There was a commercial printing company that went from $16+ million a year to bankruptcy in four. The owners’ complacency turned a strong organization into a vacant building.

This is what failing to re-evaluate can do. What’s worse, it’s far from the only problem that complacency causes.

2. Loss of Productivity

You’ve seen what happened to my business’ management and educators. When they noticed I stopped caring, so did they. Naturally, this made them putter along trying to achieve the organisation’s goals. In fact, there weren’t any goals to speak of.

Without a clear goal, your business will suffer a huge productivity drop. Your employees will stop showing initiative and the business stagnates. Little by little, resistance to change will outgrow your organisation, and you get stuck in a rut.

It’s really hard to bounce back from this. Once productivity goes down and people get comfortable, you’ll run into all sorts of resistance getting them to step up their game. The lack of motivation will prevent people from going forward, and before you know it, you’ll lose your edge. But your competition doesn’t stop. They’ll run right past you and leave you in the dust, and the end result might be fatal.

3. Inability to Adapt to Market Changes

No matter your industry, the market doesn’t allow you to get comfortable. If you do, the market will evolve faster than your organisation and leave you behind. Unless you recognise this in time, you might not be able to catch up.

How do you recognise this issue? It’s simple – figure out whether your organisation thinks proactively or reactively. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being reactive as long as you do it before your competition. The problem is, complacency makes you miss obvious signs that it’s time for a change.

Aside from killing proactivity, it also slows down your reaction time. As the market will keep changing regardless of what you do, the number of things that you have to catch up on will keep growing. Sooner than later, you’ll see a mountain of issues that you might not be able to climb over.

4. Loss of Respect and Authority

Complacent leaders often turn into followers. Rather than being innovators and visionaries, they start playing it safe and entrench themselves in their comfort zone. This results in a loss of confidence, skills, and pretty much everything that defines a leader.

Make no mistake, your team will see this in you. Since leading by example is more effective than exhortations, your employees will soon adopt your behaviour. They’ll likely lose their trust and respect for you, and you might lose all your authority over them.

What do you think happens next? Without a strong force to lead them, employees will lose their motivation to work towards the organisation’s goals. This will poison the business culture and turn a high-performing team into a bunch of operatives focused on their own bottom line.

5. False Sense of Urgency

Many people mistake anxiety for urgency. True urgency means that people know what matters most and how to achieve it. They have the drive necessary to accomplish the most valuable goals and their desire to win isn’t easy to break.

This is different from false urgency. Complacent leaders lose touch with what truly matters to their business success. When they finally sense that something is wrong, the result is an atmosphere of confusion which ultimately leads to panic.

Not knowing the direction in which the business should move, the leader starts scattering resources all over the place. As this isn’t sustainable, a lack of desired results overwhelms the organisation. This causes distress that further kills productivity and triggers a series of problems that might drive the business to the ground.

6. Lack of Attention to Detail

Complacent leaders don’t always lose sight of the ultimate goal. Sometimes, they only forget to tweak some minor aspects of their business. This can be as detrimental to success as losing touch with the end goal altogether.

This stems from a business’ need to put all its focus on the customers. Now more than ever, consumers face a real prospect of choice paralysis. With so many options out there, it’s the small details that decide whether you or your competitor will earn someone’s business.

For this reason, leaders need to be at the top of their game at all times. This means scouring the market for small holes that they need to fill. Complacency robs you of the ability to do this, as you might not even be aware of any changes in consumer needs. This makes your business vulnerable to the competition. If you don’t snap out of it in time and learn how to fight back, your customers will turn to those who are willing to fight for them.

7. Obsolete Business Plan

Your business plan is so much more than just a document. It’s a living, breathing force that reminds you of the direction that you want to go in. As such, the worst thing you can do is to approach it with a set and forget attitude.

Unfortunately, this is exactly what complacent leaders do. They’re happy with how well the business is doing and feel like there’s no need to fix what’s not broken. What they don’t realise is that it’s not about fixing but rather upgrading.

If your business plan doesn’t evolve, neither will your organisation. Unless you sit down and realign your priorities and goals every once in a while, your business’ growth will stunt and it eventually gets swallowed up by the competition.

Take a Look in the Mirror

Now that you’ve seen the negative impacts that complacency can have on your organisation, it’s time to take a close look in the mirror and see if it might be happening to you. Question the approach that you’re taking as a leader, and be honest as you uncover the answer.

If you think hard enough about your current standing, you’ll see that it’s not the right time to get comfortable. Look hard enough and you’ll see more than a few things that you need to work on, no matter how small they might be.

After that, get out of the comfort zone as soon as possible and start challenging yourself. This will resonate with everyone in your company. And before you know it, you’ll get your business back on track.

Luckily, you can do many things to snap out of complacency. I enjoy sharing my strategies and watching business owners succeed. Contact my office to book me for a speaking event.


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