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Is Your Organization Complacent?

By Tom Flick – All-Pro Authority on Leadership, Leading Change and Increasing Performance

Leadership Speaker Tom Flick on Humility & Leadership at The Sweeney Agency Speakers BureauMany years ago, I left my NFL playing days behind and entered what I thought would be the organized, disciplined, team-first culture of corporate America. But then, I was amazed to discover that organizations seemed as if they were winging it for the most part.

That’s right—winging it!

Wasted time, wasted energy, and wasted talent. I found many to be lethargic, directionless, and chaotic, with no sense of genuine urgency to win now.

Mired in complacency, the tenor of many was “they were doing was just fine,” lacking any resolve to take on the competition. I was stunned by this new awareness. Organizations need to get back to the fundamentals of consistent winning by maximizing human performance. Developing, coaching, and growing their talent to go after wins with deep-felt determination.

Behaving with Complacency

Complacency is a concept researched for decades by my friend Dr. John Kotter, Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus, at the Harvard Business School, an author, and the founder of Kotter International. Dr. Kotter calls complacency an all-too-common occurrence in organizations that have achieved success and that knowing how to identify complacency is half the battle in overcoming it.

What is Complacency?

The origins of complacency are derived from past success, historical success, even antidotal success. A complacency definition reveals why: “Complacency is a feeling of contentment or self-satisfaction coupled with an unawareness of danger or trouble looming around the corner.”

Two words are significant in the definition.

The first word is FEELINGComplacency is not only a thought. It’s very much a feeling. It is usually less a matter of conscious, rational analysis than unconscious emotion. This point is significant because people treat complacency as a state of mind that can be changed solely with the “cold, hard facts.”

The second word is SELFComplacency is a feeling that a person has about their behavior, about what they need to do or not do. This is important because it is possible to see problems yet be astonishingly complacent. After all, you do not feel that the issues seen require changes in your actions.

Almost always, complacent people do not view themselves as complacent. Dr. Kotter relates, “They see themselves as behaving quite rationally. They can be aggravatingly creative in justifying their point of view. These people can be hard to spot because they look rational, thoughtful, and prudent. Worse yet, they can see themselves as rational, thoughtful, and prudent.”

Becoming Aware of Complacency

  • Complacency comes FROM: Past or perceived success.
  • How Complacent people THINK: They never think they’re complacent.
  • How Complacent people FEEL: Content with the status quo, often afraid of the personal consequences of change.
  • How Complacent people BEHAVE: They are identified by what they do (although words are revealing). They do not alertly look for new opportunities or hazards. Instead, they pay attention to what’s happening internally. They move at 30mph when 50mph is clearly needed. Mostly they do what has worked for them in the past.
  • WHO can be Complacent: You, me, our bosses, anybody!

Some Important Questions to Ask

Dr. Kotter asks some helpful questions to get ahold of complacency. See if any of these strike a chord with you.

  • Do people have trouble scheduling meetings on important initiatives (“Because, well, my agenda is so full”)?
  • Do meetings on key issues end with no decisions about what must happen immediately (except the scheduling of another meeting)?
  • Are discussions inwardly focused and not about markets, emerging technology, competitors, and the like?
  • Are specific assignments around critical issues regularly not completed on time and with sufficient quality?
  • Do people say, “We must act now!” but then don’t act?


Moving people from a position of complacency to commitment is a game-changer. As a leadership keynote speaker and workshop facilitator, many of my talks often center on identifying and removing complacency allowing organizations to move faster with less chaos to achieve success.


    About Tom Flick

    Tom Flick is a dynamic and highly sought-after, leadership expert who has delivered over 3,000 presentations to a “who’s-who” list of clients that includes Microsoft, Starbucks, Google, Boeing, American Express, Amazon, NASA, Mercedes-Benz, and the Pentagon. Mr. Flick addresses more than 100,000 men and women each year and has garnered a reputation around the world as an authority on leadership, helping organizations develop leaders, lead effective change, and accelerate personal, team, and organizational performance

    To learn more about Tom Flick contact [email protected]

    Derek Sweeney is the Director of Speaker Ideas at The Sweeney Agency  www.thesweeneyagency.com. For 15 years Derek has been helping clients find the right Speakers for their events. Derek can be reached at 1-866-727-7555 or [email protected]