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To be or not to be (complacent)

Complacency is not something that we just wake up with one morning. It happens to us over time. We become complacent. It sneaks up on us when we are distracted and tuned out; when we take things for granted; when we no longer have a sense of urgency or a crisis to fight (at least no visible crisis). It takes hold when ‘it is what it is’ has become our daily catch-cry and the culture drives people to value self-preservation more than anything else.

The irony of complacency is that it is often the result of success, whether real or imagined. We overlook or explain away things that are amiss or just don’t feel right. We succumb to confirmation bias – noticing the things that support our assumptions and beliefs; dismissing those things that contradict them. Once complacency sets in, our ability to think differently is minimised by our inability to process anything other than what we already know.

There is no doubt that complacency can be a pretty comfortable place; at least for the short-term. While no one consciously chooses to become complacent, it is where we can end up if we allow self-satisfaction for a job well done to stop us looking over the horizon for issues that will emerge down the track.

Complacency is part of human nature, so it is reasonable to expect that we’ll all become complacent at some point. In that case it can be useful to have a checklist of things that we can do to help snap ourselves out of it and prevent an outbreak of complacency spreading across the organisation.

  • Own it but keep it in context

As we mentioned above, complacency is usually the result of success. Of course, you should recognise and celebrate your successes – but then you need to get back to work and fight for the next win. Use that feeling of success as the motivator for moving towards that next achievement.

  • Reset your goals to keep you focused on your purpose

Once your goals have been met, new goals need to be set and regularly re-evaluated. Keep in mind that although goals can be a great motivator, it is the underlying purpose – the vision – that will drive performance and be a vaccine for complacency.

  • Do some blue-sky thinking

As you would expect the sky is the limit when it comes to engaging your team in some blue-sky thinking! Set the team a challenge of imagining an ideal business scenario one year from now, then look back from that vantage point to the present and consider what could be done to help create that future. Alternatively, imagine throwing out everything you know and everything that is, and ask the team what the business would look like if they built it from scratch today.

Curiosity promotes exploration and change, and stops us becoming stagnant and staid in our thoughts.

  • Learn, learn, learn

Lifelong learners position themselves for continual growth. If you are growing, you cannot be stagnant. Simple.

  • Consider your role and your contribution

Complacent leaders often operate at a slower pace; they are less decisive and have blind spots; and they tend to take a reactive rather than a proactive approach to situations. Take the time to have an objective look at your own contribution. Are you giving your best most days? If the answer is no, think about what needs to change for you to be at full throttle. It might be following through on a couple of actions on this list, or it might be that you need to step back from a while and take a short break. Disconnecting from your usual routines and habits, even for a brief time can provide a good circuit breaker to get you back on track.

  • Monitor your health

Be proactive about your health. Short consistent bursts of exercise can serve to act as complacency busters; adjusting your diet can re-energise you and have beneficial longer-term effects.


Even though it happens to all of us at one point or another, it is not always easy to admit we have let our guard down and become complacent. The good news is we can start getting back on track as soon as we recognise where we are by taking these first steps to shift ourselves – and our organisations – back into gear.


ASC Training & Development delivers a range of management and leadership courses focused on developing and strengthening the skills needed to thrive in a leadership role. The programs are suitable for range of skill levels, from experienced leaders to those aspiring to leadership and management roles. Many of our programs are offered as live virtual classrooms.

Further information can be found on our website or feel free to give us a call to discuss your specific needs.