Complacency, the gatekeeper of poor leadership

There is one sentence that’s always guaranteed to annoy me in the context of leadership it is “We’ve always been good!”. This sentence encapsulates poor leadership in so many different ways. It can also be condensed into a single word … complacency. Complacency in all its forms is often the gatekeeper of poor leadership.

What is complacency?

The online Cambridge dictionary defines complacency as “A feeling of calm satisfaction with your own abilities or situation that prevents you from trying harder”. A complacent leader is often unaware of potential dangers or challenges to its organisation. While standards may still be reasonably high and the organisation might be doing well in most metrics. There is no guarantee that this will always remain the case, especially if new developments are on the horizon. We can simplify complacency as an attitude that the current status-quo will always prevail with minimum changes.

How does it take root?

Complacency can take roots when a group or an organisation has been successful for a long period. Additionally, other factors can enter into the equation either on their own or in combination:

  • The initial version for the group/organisation is not refreshed or updated to take into account recent successes.
  • The leadership team that led the organisation to success is replaced and the new team lacks experience.
  • What made the organisation successful in the first place is forgotten and replaced by assumptions.
  • Possible challenges or changes aren’t anticipated.
  • The leadership teams become self-satisfied and emotionally committed to the idea that “things have always been that way”.

Can you counter it?

I’ve said in a previous post that attitude matters more than aptitude when it comes to leadership. To avoid complacency, leaders must always question themselves and how well they are doing against their vision. Adopting a questioning attitude can help a lot, especially if it extends to challenging assumptions and even the ways outcomes are measured. A very effective way of countering complacency is open-mindedness and curiosity about how similar organisations are performing. In own leadership journey, attending the events of other Toastmasters Districts opened my eyes to what was possible at home. I saw with my own eyes that while we were good at certain things, we also had countless opportunities for improvement too.

Leave a comment