Complacency: The Silent Killer: 10 Tactics to Tackle Complacency

Watch the little things; a small leak will sink a great ship.” ~Benjamin Franklin

There’s nothing like that feeling of success- the feeling of finally making it! Getting that big break, reaching a milestone, winning a case, getting promoted, setting a new PR in a race, or landing that big contract- it’s just THE BEST FEELING!  I know that I’ve felt  this feeling of “YES! I’ve made it. Whew! Hallelujah! Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice! Exhale.”

Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection. Kim Collins

But there can be a shadow side to success, a dangerous shadow called complacency.  And complacency, unlike other dangers, is quiet.  It does not explode like a bomb or erupt like a volcano.  Instead it quietly sneaks into your daily practice and robs you of time and opportunity like a diet high in saturated fats and low in exercise slowly builds upon the walls of your arteries until one day you get a heart attack, high blood pressure or diabetes.  Complacency creeps into our professional lives when we hold onto our achievements of the past as an excuse slip from new learning. Then one day, your position is cut, your work feels too hard, or your clients go away. It all seems so sudden- but it’s not.  The quiet and steady killer that is complacency, the state of being too comfortable,  of taking our current state for granted, feeds on contentment like rust feeds on the still and neglected motor.

You may be wondering- but can’t I enjoy my success for a little while?  My answer- absolutely enjoy your success. The danger lies not in the enjoyment, but in the action that we take when we view success as a final resting place, a destination, or an elite status.  If we look at success as a destination, then complacency easily falls into place.  Success is not just a location.  Success is about the journey, the work, the growth and the learning.  Success is in fact about the process and the engagement.  As soon as you begin to think “I have arrived”, then you risk complacency.  For one, wherever you’ve arrived is only good for so long.   The best of the best know that winning championships is sweet and to be celebrated fully.  Work for the next championship starts right away.  Viewing success as the ride that you want to keep making better will not only help you in your leadership journey, but it will also allow you to enjoy the process.  Adapt the mindset that success is learning, growing, challenging yourself and you can experience success all the time.  Move to the work that is your passion and dive into it.  But as soon as you start to think that “I’ve arrived- I’m done”, then you may unintentionally leave yourself completely vulnerable to a painful fall from grace.

Complacency is not just a killer of self development.  What relationships are you taking for granted?  Where has complacency crept into your relationships? Are there colleagues that have been left out of your care? Friendships? Partners? Social justice issues?  How about your finances? Where has complacency sneaked into your relationships with your employees, your family or your health?

“The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.” ~ Albert Einstein

To keep complacency far away, try these 10 anti-complacency, pro-improvement practices.

1. Set goals every year, quarter, month and day so that you are always looking to achieve new goals and see new views.

2.  Share your goals with others for accountability.

3.  Do the things that you are avoiding FIRST! You will build your effectiveness muscle instead of your procrastination muscle. And while we are at it, do the thing that SCARES you the most. Staying safe is perhaps the most risky place to try and be, plus- it’s boring.

4. Celebrate achieving every goal, no matter how small. Celebrate learning, growth and overcoming fears just like you would winning first place in a marathon.

5. Don’t make excuses for failures or set backs.  See them as learning opportunities.  Ask yourself what you’ve learned and how you want to apply this learning to your future goals.

6.  Search for feedback about your effectiveness and seek support to build on your strengths and address your edges.

7. Invest in your own personal development through reading, audio books and workshops.

8.  Hire a coach.  An excellent coach is one of THE most effective learning and development tools available to professionals.  The best of any profession, whether you are an executive, small business owner, or professional golfer, all have coaches, some have many (and yes, so do I). Nobody wins without help and support.

9.  Balance personal, professional,  and health.  It’s easy to to get so focused on one aspect of life that another aspect gets taken for granted. The best of the best focus on the most important aspects of the most important priorities of their lives. Don’t sacrifice your health for your work or your personal relationships.  Keep a balance like a three legged stool.

10.  Appreciate the ride and those on it.  Take each day to be thankful for your day, your friendships, your employees, colleagues and family.  We only have a short number of days on this planet.  Make them count by noticing and appreciating all that’s right, all those who have helped and spend less time on energy sucking complaining.

These are just a few of the key ways to fight off complacency AND enjoy a journey of success.  Which recommendation do you want to add to your leadership practice?  Do it now. Don’t wait.  Complacency is patient and will wait for its opportunity for you to feed it.  Starve complacency!   Choose behaviors that feed success.

Thank you for reading and please share your thoughts in the comments below.  Sending you all great positive energy for your leadership journey.

Larysa Slobodian

Principal Consultant & Executive Coach

L4 Leadership LLC


  1. Boomer's buddy October 11, 2013 at 8:53 am #

    We take our live breaths for granted… Such is the ‘power’ of complacency…

    Thank you Larysa for writing this piece and the important reminders along with how to avoid it.

    Routine also kills passion – unless there is awareness of one’s thoughts, words and actions. Routine w/o awareness is one way to let complacency take root.

    To borrow from the music tradition: one needs to constantly practice. Many musicians say that if they don’t practice for a week they can tell the difference, 2 weeks their peers and 3 weeks their fans / audience.

  2. Larysa Slobodian October 11, 2013 at 10:15 am #

    Thanks Boomer’s buddy! You’ve inspired me to practice my guitar today. Love the point about routine. Routine can just lull us into complacency. Thanks!

    Larysa Slobodian
  3. Steve October 11, 2013 at 10:33 am #

    Very nice. I like the idea about beating procrastination by doing the hard thing first. I will give that a try. Thanks.

  4. Lisa October 11, 2013 at 11:25 am #

    Thank you Larysa. What a thoughtful Friday call to action. I will do the two hardest things first today! The two things that I have put off all week…until now. I was trying to coast into the weekend where I would undoubtedly grow some rust.

  5. Larysa Slobodian October 11, 2013 at 11:29 am #

    Awesome Lisa! Doing the hardest thing first really helps me. I always feel better and have more energy after I go after that hard thing that I keep putting off. AND, I feel better about myself. Thanks for reading and for commenting.

    Larysa Slobodian
  6. Gordon Guthrie October 11, 2013 at 11:30 am #

    Hmmm…. I hate to read about myself :-) You are so correct. I am now teaching my employees that their complacency flow through to the customer in many cases – so beware, they are watching. Also, we were taught with my old company that customers are not complacent; however I believe that they are not willing due to their lack of training. So complacency can be contagious. Thanks again Slobo for the reminder!

  7. Pam in Portland October 11, 2013 at 11:31 am #

    Off to do the hardest thing first! Thanks for the encouragement, as always.

  8. Larysa Slobodian October 11, 2013 at 12:08 pm #

    Way to go Pam!

    Larysa Slobodian
  9. Larysa Slobodian October 11, 2013 at 12:11 pm #

    You are not alone Gordon. I am not above any of the topics that I write. I am very familiar with procrastination and enjoying my “comfort zone” from time to time. I love what you say about complacency being contagious! Spot on! My question is what do you want to model for yourself and others so that they catch it. If we’re all contagious, what good stuff do we want to share? Thank you for reading and for commenting Gordon! You’re awesome!

    Larysa Slobodian
  10. Ray in SoCal October 14, 2013 at 7:00 am #

    Thanks Larysa,

    There is this book on a topic I know I need to learn about, but am not excited about it. I’ve been putting off ordering the book, thinking as long as the book is not here, I have an excuse. Well, lookout Amazon – you are my next stop. Hope all is well with you (Sounds like it is)!

  11. Larysa Slobodian October 14, 2013 at 7:28 am #

    Fantastic Ray! Thank you for sharing your story. Great comment and super to hear from you!

    Larysa Slobodian
  12. Al October 15, 2013 at 12:29 pm #

    Another great piece of advice.
    My suggestion is to write out your “specific to do” list with the highest priority ones at the top and attack these items successively. The hard ones are not necessarily at the top. Don’t skip down and do the easier ones before the most important ones get done – that is a temptation that needs to be resisted.

  13. Larysa Slobodian October 18, 2013 at 5:30 pm #

    Agreeed Al, as I noted in point 3, do what’s scary, hard, and what you’ve been avoiding. You’ll build momentum and energy while also starving procrastination. Thank you for reading and commenting!

    Larysa Slobodian

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