Leadership Essentials

Leadership Essentials

How to Avoid the Complacency Trap

By Kerry Siggins, CEO, StoneAge Tools, and Vice President, WJTA Board of Directors / Published December 2019

Photo by iStockphoto.com/CJMGrafx

Editor’s Note: This article was reprinted with per-mission from the August/September 2019 issue of WJTA’s Jet News.

Falling into the trap of complacency is so easy to do. And it’s no wonder. Humans are homeostatic beings. Just as our bodies work to maintain equilibrium, our brains work to keep our external environment stable, too. We are driven to resist change. We like things just the way they are . . . even if we actually hate the way things are.

Complacency is defined as a feeling of being satisfied with how things are and not wanting to make them better. It is usually accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies. So basically, it means you are putting your head in the sand!

The thing about complacency is that it sneaks up on you ever so quietly. It happens slowly over time, going almost unnoticed. It might be disguised as contentment. It becomes invisible in the wake of success. It conceals itself behind relationships you take for granted. It hides beneath the surface of self-justifying statements like “I had no control over the outcome” and “I’ve paid my dues and now it’s someone else’s turn,” or the worst, “I’m just easily bored.” But make no mistake, it’s always there waiting, luring you into believing that you can sit back and take a well-deserved hiatus from the hard work that’s required (almost constantly) to grow as a person, employee, leader, and organization.

The next thing you know, complacency has led you to mediocrity. Mediocrity results in uninspired, undistinguished, unexceptional, lackluster, and forgettable performance. Whew, that’s a tough place to pull yourself out of. Mediocrity is like thick, sticky mud that sucks you back into the mucky swamp. Unless you are ready to break a serious sweat and painstakingly claw your way out by making major changes to your life, team, or organization, you are stuck.

You must guard against complacency at all costs. The best way to do that is to ALWAYS shake things up. Turn off the TV and put down your phone. Get off the couch and go for a jog. Do something you’ve never done before. Change your routine so you meet new people. Hire a coach. Go see a marriage counselor. Ask for feedback and then do something with it. Admit your weaknesses and work fervently to minimize them. Pitch an idea to your boss. Ask to lead a major project at work. Pay careful attention to your competitors. Stay current on what’s happening in your industry and anticipate how changes in it will affect your business. Pick apart your business model and then reconstruct it. Move people into new positions within your company. Help your employees and coworkers solve problems. Set goals and make a plan to achieve them.

Because getting unstuck can be difficult, it’s critical to surround yourself with people who can support your efforts to get out of the complacency trap. There is a fantastic book called Change Anything—The New Science of Personal Success, written by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Daniel Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler. When complacency and mediocrity have a grip on you, this book is an excellent resource, giving you many ideas on how to release its hold. A key factor of success is having people who are coaches and mentors in your life, helping to cheer you on and hold you accountable.

It’s also very important to make sure that you (and your team) are crystal clear on the WHY of what you are trying to achieve. Defining the WHY sets a vision and a path forward. You can come back to it when you start to feel like you are losing your way, because wandering around aimlessly without a well-defined (and shared) purpose is a surefire way to cultivate complacency. Doing something for the sake of just doing it is about as uninspiring as it gets.

Most importantly, never ignore the little things that start to tear at the fabric of your personal well-being, family, team, and/or organization. Don’t sweep problems under the rug. When problems and issues are not addressed and complacency is tolerated, it becomes what’s accepted and expected. Act swiftly and with care because if left alone, you are setting the stage for lackluster performance, unhealthy relationships, and a general lack of inspiration.

Kerry Siggins is the CEO of StoneAge Inc., a leading manufacturer of high pressure water-blasting and sewer cleaning tools and equipment based in Durango, CO. She has been key in building StoneAge’s strategic vision, worldwide sales, and employee ownership culture. Her passion lies in organizational and leadership development, and she enjoys helping StoneAge employees and those in our industry grow both personally and professionally. She is also the WJTA vice president. To subscribe to Kerry’s blog, visit www.kerrysiggins.com. 

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