The Biggest Leadership Mistake You Can Make (Plus Five Ways to Tackle It)
Updated: Feb 13
There’s a huge management mistake that you may be guilty of making. The good news is that there’s plenty that you can do to fix it.
There is nothing guaranteed in business.
You know that first-hand. You’ve scrapped and clawed your way into creating a successful business. The time that you’ve spent paid dividends and you’re now at the head of a company that’s making money.
But no leader is infallible.
You already understand that there are many mistakes that business leaders can make. You’ve likely made a few along the road yourself.
However, you’re in more danger now than at any point in your career. You’re comfortable, which means you feel secure.
And it’s that very feeling that can lead to making the biggest mistake of all…
Complacency is the Biggest Mistake
When you’re too comfortable, you get complacent.
And when you’re complacent, you start to miss important issues that could affect your business. You may feel that you deserve to take more time away from the office. You may even feel like you’ve done so well with building your business that you have nothing to worry about.
But that’s how complacency grabs hold of you. And once it has you, it’s like a cancer. It keeps festering while it slowly ebbs the life force of your business away.
In an article for Forbes, Louis Mosca talks about what it’s like to work with complacent leaders.
He talks about working with a commercial printing company that generated $16 million per year in revenue. However, he soon identified issues with the company’s leadership:
“The owners would regularly show up late for work, take three-day weekends, and play golf two-to-three days per week. They managed their business as if it were a self-sufficient machine.”
Those owners didn’t fix their complacent ways. Just four years after Louis started working with the business, the company wound down.
All that’s left is an empty building.
And it’s not just small businesses that are at risk. Barnes & Noble's famous scuffle with Amazon in the online book space shows that.
The company believed that its brand name alone would allow it to move beyond Amazon’s emerging empire.
As the company’s CEO, Steve Riggio, puts it:
"Clearly, we thought there was going to be room for us and Amazon."
Barnes & Noble waited far too long to get into the online book space. Their assumptions that they’d powered past the competition proved incorrect.
Now, Amazon is the market leader in that space because its leaders showed the hunger and drive to make it happen.
This is what happens when you become complacent. You lose the drive that spurred you on to achieve amazing things. You lose sight of your goals and start to tolerate poor performance within the business.
Your team becomes less productive and the key players leave.
Slowly but surely, complacency destroys everything that once made your business great.
But here’s the good news.
Once you’ve accepted that you’re making this mistake, there’s plenty that you can do about it.
If you’re going to cure the cancer of complacency that’s running through your business, these are the five actions you need to take.
Action #1 – Start Challenging Your Team
Complacency in leadership gets reflected by your team. If your people can see that you don’t really care, they’re not going to bring their A-game to work.
They’re just going to skate along while doing the bare minimum. And even those who want to bring something new to the table may not bother.
After all, they can see that you’re complacent so they assume that you won’t make any changes.
Disrupt this negative pattern.
Challenge your people to start thinking about ways to improve the business. Ask them to share their ideas and take everything that they say on board.
Often, the best ideas for business improvement come from those who are on the ground.
Let your team inspire you. Build a hunger for improvement within them and use that newfound energy to transform the business.
Action #2 – Confront the Worst-Case Scenario
What’s the worst thing that could happen if your business continues down its current path?
If you’re honest with yourself, you can already see the stagnation in progress. The revenue may not have started to fall yet. But it’s also not growing anymore.
Plus, your competition is hot on your heels. Some of your competitors may have even surpassed you.
If you do nothing, more of them will follow. You’ll go from being a leader in your niche to being an also-ran.
If you don’t make the changes that your business needs, you’ll end up in the same situation as the printing company mentioned earlier.
The worst-case scenario is that your business collapses. Accept that as a possibility and work on the basis of doing whatever it takes to stop that from happening.
Action #3 – Reward Innovation
As mentioned, your people are often your best source for new business ideas.
Don’t take this for granted.
Build a culture of innovation within the company. Instead of expecting people to do the same mundane tasks over and over, challenge them to think of new ideas.
When these ideas bear fruit, reward your people for their efforts. There are plenty of ways to do this. Methods include monetary compensation, personal recognition, and workplace privileges.
The important point is that your people recognize that you appreciate their efforts.
As a sidebar to this, it’s also important that you don’t punish people for ideas that don’t work out.
Not every innovation will help the business. That’s the risk that you take when you’re trying something new.
If you had enough confidence in the idea to move forward with it, you can’t punish the person who came up with it if it doesn’t work.
Action #4 – Create a New Goal (And Focus On it)
When you founded your business, you knew exactly what you wanted to achieve.
You had a hunger burning inside you that pushed you to work towards your goal. The business grew along with your efforts and became what it is today.
Now, you’ve lost focus.
Instead of creating new goals, you’re coasting along with the business under the assumption that nothing bad can happen.
The simple truth is that a business leader who has no goals won’t stay in their position for long. You may have achieved everything that you wanted when you started out.
Ask yourself what you want to achieve now.
Do you have a revenue figure that you want to hit? Focus on it and create a plan that will get you there.
Perhaps you want to branch out and enter a new niche. If that’s the case, do the research so you can learn about the market and what it takes to succeed within it.
You need something concrete to shoot towards or you start to lose focus. If you’re not focused, you can’t expect your team to know what they need to do either.
Action #5 – Take Responsibility for Your Own Mistakes
This is a big one.
In trying to attack complacency, some leaders make the mistake of blaming their teams for the company’s issues.
Encouraging improvement and innovation within your team is important. However, you have to accept the responsibility for where the business finds itself.
You’re the leader, which means the blame rests with you.
If your team isn’t as productive as it needs to be, look at the example that you’re setting.
Think back to the printing business mentioned earlier. The leaders in that company regularly took time off to play golf and laze around. They placed the burden of running the company on their team’s shoulders.
That’s not what a leader does.
A leader constantly strives for improvement. They mentor their people and have the ability to recognize their own flaws.
They know that they’re responsible for what happens with their company.
The same goes for you. Take responsibility for your actions, or lack thereof, and make it clear that you’re going to change. Act as the inspiration for your team rather than trying to assign blame to others.
Confront Your Biggest Mistake
The worst thing about complacency is that it’s so difficult to spot before it’s too late.
Bad habits creep up on you until they become your new norm. If the business doesn’t instantly react in a negative manner as a result of those habits, you assume that everything’s fine.
So, you keep doing what you’re doing without seeing the danger that lies beneath the surface. The cancer of complacency will eat away at your business and rot it from the inside.
If you’re not vigilant in looking for the symptoms, it may be too late by the time you spot them.
That’s what I want to help you avoid. My name is Hassan Younes and I almost lost my business as a result of my complacency.
However, I recognized the mistake and managed to fix it. If you’d like to find out how, please enquire about booking me for a speaking event.