A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a thief. ~Proverbs 6:10-11
This proverb has always stuck with me as a warning of the consequences of staying too comfortable. The saying asserts that, day by day, there is an accumulation of small decisions we make to stay in our comfort zone–to do the “easy” thing. And then little by little, these daily decisions to stay in one place reap their consequence–the lack of prosperity. This is the consequence that robs you of your true potential. At times I have thought of this quote in the context of career terms. Perhaps it would go something like, “A little time watching the clock, a little time doing meaningless reports, and a stagnant career will come on you like a thief.”
The tricky part of this proverb is that a slow accumulation of making small daily decisions to not “work hard” leads to an unfortunate end that is a surprise to the person. This feeling of security while being unaware of the potential danger is the definition of complacency. So what are the signs of complacency in one’s career? What sets two people apart who start the same entry-level job on the same day, where one makes a slow ascent with few promotions while the other steadily progresses to become the head of the entire business unit? Because complacency slowly and silently can take root in someone’s career over a span of years without them realizing it, I call it the #1 Career Killer. While complacency is not always easy to recognize, there are some consistent habits of successful people that, if modeled, can get people out of the mindset of comfort zone and into the mindset of striving.
Here are some habits of individuals who successfully avoid becoming complacent:
- They question the reasons behind the tasks they do to make certain that tasks have a necessary purpose to meet overall business objectives. They do not fall into a routine of doing things because “that’s the way they have always been done,” or because they were asked to do them. Rather, they understand the big-picture goals they need to achieve and they line up daily actions to ensure that there is congruence. If certain tasks do not fall in line with the business objectives, they stop doing them.
- They have goals that they are constantly working towards, reviewing, revising and resetting. Having an active plan to achieve goals keeps people in a mindset of constant action to achieve an objective. The key is to make the plan, and then to consistently evaluate results to ensure successful follow-through and execution of the plan.
- They are constantly looking for new opportunities to improve. This perpetual mindset of always looking to improve keeps them striving to refine their skills, to change their approach and to advance their execution of objectives.
- They do not feel their job is “easy”. There may be times during a career where someone may not feel perpetually challenged. However, someone who is not complacent will always push himself and make his own challenges even when the inherent task at hand seems relatively simple. George Keller said, “To think creatively, we must be able to look afresh at what we normally take for granted.” To evade complacency, one must always see possibilities, even in things that may seem mundane on the surface.
- They have a clear plan for what they need to do to get to the next level. The end goal is always clear in the mind of a high achiever. And since they are always thinking of improvement and how to reach their objectives, they prioritize making plans to achieve their goals.
- They think in terms of what accomplishes big picture objectives, not what checks items off of a list. It is so easy to mistake the feeling of success that you get from being busy as a sign that you are achieving your long term goals. But the truth is that success only comes from achieving results. People who are not complacent understand that completing a list of tasks, while they may be necessary for one’s work, do not equate to achieving success. Success only comes from the results of achieving your overarching goals.
Complacency is the enemy of success, and the best way to avoid it is to remain in a mindset of consistent improvement. The legendary former General Electric CEO Jack Welch has broadcast this message again and again. He said,
“The mindset of yesterday’s manager – accepting compromise, keeping things tidy – bred complacency. Tomorrow’s leaders must raise issues, debate them, and resolve them. They must rally around a vision of what a business can become.”
And as advice on a personal level on avoiding complacency, he said, “You’ve got to be constantly raising the bar. Finding that thing that makes you win has to keep being escalated all the time.” If you want to keep your career alive and thriving, keep challenging yourself to improve, and weed out complacency every day.