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  • Hassan Younes

Complacency Kills – The 4 Things That Suffer When You’re a Complacent Leader

Updated: May 3, 2020

Complacency can turn success into failure. Discover the main threats that it poses and how to avoid them.





A business leader needs to work incredibly hard to reach the top. But what happens when they get there?


In many cases, they make the mistake of thinking that the hard work is over. They’ve achieved their goals and can now enjoy the results.


Except that it doesn’t work that way.


As soon as you come to the conclusion that there’s no need to progress any further, the only direction left to go is down. Complacency creeps in and spreads through your whole business. When your team sees that you’re no longer interested in growth, they won’t be either.



This article highlights some of the most severe symptoms of complacency. Before that, let’s take a look at the dangers of this state of mind through a real-life example.


How Motorola Lost the Phone Wars


When was the last time you saw someone proudly wielding a Motorola phone? Must’ve been a while, right?


Unless you’re a youngster, you’re aware that the American company was once a pioneer in cellular phone technology. Nowadays, you might come across a news story about Motorola once in a while, but nothing too glowing unless it’s in the past tense.

The story of Motorola is a familiar one.


At one time the biggest player in the industry, Motorola came up with the world’s first fully-functioning cellular phone in 1973. Of course, that was before the term ‘mobile phone” came into being as the portable communication device was rather massive back then.


Almost 20 years later, Motorola released the first-ever GSM cellular handset. That was the company’s license to conquer the global cellular phone market.


By the mid-2000s, everything had changed. Up until that point, Motorola was still the MVP. The famous Motorola Razr was the forerunner to BlackBerry and the iPhone. And yet, Motorola’s market share took a dive from 21% in 2006 to a mere 6% three years later in 2009.


These short years coincided with the proliferation of software in the tech industry. Primarily a hardware company.riding on its glory days, Motorola became complacent and failed to adapt to a changing industry.


This was the underlying problem that sprouted many others. Little by little, Motorola phones fell behind the competition. The company first spun off its mobile division, Motorola Mobility, by then it’s considered a deadweight holding down the rest of the company. Google bought Motorola Mobility in 2012, and then Lenovo in 2014.


Today, Motorola’s market share circles around 1%, with no indication of a rebound.

As mentioned, Motorola is only one of the many companies that littered the graveyard of complacency. And if you allow yourself to become complacent, your business might have to book a plot. To prevent this from happening, here are the business aspects that you need to inspect against complacency now and then:


1. The Culture of Innovation




By now, it’s common knowledge that innovation drives success. Business leaders need to continue to improve their products or services if they want to have legs in the market. Otherwise, customers are likely to get bored and switch to something else more up-to-date.

In Motorola’s example, despite its enormous reputation, being late to the game on the software side equated to the company handing over the reins to Apple and BlackBerry. Motorola over-relied on its former innovations. In just a few short years, the competitors proved that old innovations were worthless.


In light of this, when was the last time you changed something in your product or service?

You don’t have to make ground-breaking discoveries every few months. You just have to shake things up a bit once in a while to show consumers that you can meet their ever-changing needs.


The goal is to be on the lookout for new opportunities to innovate all the time, no matter the quality of your existing offer.


2. Speed to Market/Execute





Another big mistake of Motorola’s was an inability to keep track of the prevailing speed of change. Even as the other industry leaders were hard at work to exceed one another, Motorola simply chugged along at its own pace. Needless to say, the company only fell further and further behind.


This was clearly visible with the advent of new wireless technologies. The other tech companies went out of their way to make their devices not just compatible but work seamlessly with each other. It’s the kind of ecosystem that’s been one of Apple’s top selling points to this day.


But Motorola was way behind the curve. As software was never among the company’s strong suits, it neglected to create a platform for bringing its devices together in a way that would’ve appealed to customers and built on their loyalty.


Things became so untenable that the company spun off the now-unprofitable Motorola Mobility, while the service and solutions arm of the company was still lucrative. That was in 2011, and Google bought the hardware business a year later.


So, on top of moving much slower than the competition, the phonemaker part of Motorola also ended up going in the wrong direction. This proved to be a big mistake, as evidenced by its steep fall.


Regardless of your current market position, don’t underestimate the competitors both above and below you. Be quick on your feet and get ready to take advantage of market changes.


3. Attempts at Organisational Change


It’s not just your product that needs to evolve on a regular basis; your business must be nimble as well. Organisational changes ensure that a company has all the necessary systems to keep up with the market.


But if you ever become complacent, you’re going to feel like you’ve figured out the secret formula to success. You’ll adopt a mindset of don’t fix what’s not broken. If things work well enough in a certain way so far, you’re likely to be of the opinion there’s no reason to make any changes.


However, this isn’t true.


Just because your systems have worked so far, it doesn’t mean that they’re perfect. Again, the market changes rapidly, and no set framework will work forever. Or at least, it’s not going to be enough to secure long-term success in business, even if things seem to be going beautifully right now.


Business leaders often avoid change by not being rational about their systems. They’re overly positive that things can’t possibly go any better and refuse to listen to anyone who says otherwise.


Don’t be one of those leaders.


On the contrary, be the leader who reassesses your organisation as a whole. Observe how things have changed in the past and if there’s anything that could work better. In the majority of cases, you’ll find at least a couple.


4. Employee Engagement


Are your employees giving their all? If not, you might feel the need to pin the blame on them for being complacent or try to motivate them in so many ways.


Instead of doing this, however, you might want to take a hard look in the mirror first.

Like most business issues, complacency starts at the top. If the leadership is complacent, it’s going to spread to the employees.


That’s because teams look up to their leaders. They follow the tone set by the managers and executives. What’s worse, leaders can get complacent without knowing it.


Ken Siegel, CEO of The Impact Group, points to one big reason why managers become complacent:


‘What’s usually at risk is the manager’s perception by others in the organisation. If they step out too much, they risk being perceived as a self-promoter, or self-serving.’


To protect their image, managers may fall into the trap of avoiding company issues and their personal shortcomings. Employees see this and pick up the act. The end result is an avoidance of issues that must get resolved for the good of the company.


So, If you ever notice that your employees aren’t feeling engaged or committed to growth, take a look at their leader. If the leader or leaders have the initiative to excel, the employees will follow.


Aim Higher


Success isn’t something that you can attain and forget about. The best thing about running a business is that there’s no limit to how far you can go. There’s always something worth aiming for.


Be careful about the mere fact of achieving your goals, though. If you keep exceeding your goal over and over again, you might feel that you’re doing really well. Or, perhaps your targets have been set too low.


While it’s important to celebrate your success, don’t get too comfortable. As soon as you achieve your goals, set new ones and work towards them. It’s the best way to avoid complacency and get your business over any humps or plateaus.


Would you and your organisation like to hear more about building a culture of growth and conquering complacency? Contact my office if you wish to book me for a speaking gig.


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