Merge's Blog

The dangers of becoming complacent

worldtravelThe world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.  So said St. Augustine in the 4th century.  And it’s a doctrine that I’ve taken to heart.  Those of you who know me know that I love to travel.  However, a recent travel experience taught me a lesson about the danger of becoming complacent, a lesson that applies to leadership as well, and something that I have talked about previously in the blog (see Nokia’s blunder).

Ironically, one of the most exciting things about world travel can also be the most trying … I speak of course about the lack of amenities in some developing parts of the globe that we simply take for granted in countries such as Canada and the United States.  On a recent overseas trip, I spent a few days in a rural community in India where I was harshly reminded that some of what I consider to be the basic necessities of life are actually luxuries in other parts of the world.  I am so used to twirling a tap to get water or flicking a switch to get electricity that I have come to expect these conveniences without even giving it a second thought.  In fact, I have become so complacent in expecting these services, that it led me to make some very poor decisions.

Frozen in the tropics!

Before I left for India, I checked the daily temperatures – they ranged from 7 to 15 degrees Celsius (45 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit) – in the areas that I was traveling to.  Thinking as a girl who’s spent most of her life in Canada (where we have central heating almost everywhere), I said to myself – “that’s pretty good weather”.  And I packed accordingly.  What I failed to take into account though was that most (all) buildings in these rural communities do not have central heating.  Seven to fifteen degrees Celsius seems wonderful only because you can periodically return to a warmer house or office.  But when you’re in those temperatures, continuously, for several days, usually in concrete structures, you get chilled to the bone.  After two days, I felt like I was completely frozen, and would never warm up again!

Most people who live in these communities dress warmly during the winter, but I didn’t take enough warm layers when I packed my bags!  Oh yeah, it didn’t help that the electricity was only intermittent, and as for hot water – oh, that was an extravagance.  Sure, I can complain about what happened (and I did J), but at the end of the day, the ultimate responsibility was mine – I had become complacent about certain things, so much so that they were now baseline expectations, and as a result I made some very poor (packing) decisions.

A lesson for all leaders

Which brings me of course to the workplace.  What aspects of your business and your department have you become complacent about?  As a leader, what do you take as a given?  Perhaps it’s an assumption that a certain reliable employee will always be there (no matter how difficult circumstances get).  Or that your product or service will always have a competitive advantage (it won’t).  Or that your customers will continue to forgive your product shortages or your service breakdowns (loyalty only lasts so long).  The danger with becoming complacent about these so-called absolutes is that when they shift (and they always do), you will make inferior decisions (as I did).  Good leaders fight complacency by playing the devil’s advocate and asking provocative (and sometimes unpopular) questions.  They deliberately and regularly question assumptions.  They watch themselves (and their teams) to ensure that they don’t become overconfident.

So, what examples of complacency have you observed that would serve as a lesson to leaders?  What have been your experiences, both negative and positive?  Please share by commenting below.

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