Great quote by Ronald Reagan
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:
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.
My first satisfaction survey as a manager was a disaster. For the most part the survey results were positive, but there were a couple of free form comments that were particularly troubling to read. My reaction to these comments was a case study in exactly what NOT to do when you receive critical feedback. At first when I read the critical comments, my thoughts turned to defensiveness. Then my thoughts turned to criticism of the mystery person who anonymously wrote them. I was plagued by these comments throughout the next week, to the point where I missed the useful feedback in the employee satisfaction survey altogether. The aggregate results of the survey were positive. Had I been able to digest the negative comments along with the positive ones, our work group could have really benefited from the whole exercise. But my own denial and defensiveness made me blind to both the value and the message of the critical feedback.
Has this ever happened to you? Maybe you received a positive performance evaluation, but there was just one piece of critical feedback that occupied your thoughts as your takeaway. Maybe you did not feel the feedback was true. Or maybe it was just the first time you had heard that particular criticism, so it took a great deal of time and energy to process. In order for you to continually evolve towards success, the key question is “What exactly needs to change in order for you to be able to digest critical feedback?”
For me, I discovered that I needed to change my perspective. The employee satisfaction survey experience taught me that critical feedback will always tell you one of two things:
Either way, whether you agree with the actual feedback or not, the feedback is always telling you something of value.
Once you start looking at feedback in this manner, criticism is no longer something to be feared. There is no reason to be defensive about what is shared. Because as soon as you see the feedback as either something true that needs to change, or as something that gives insight into the person giving the feedback, the message is always helpful. We want to move from a place where we are viewing feedback as a threat to our self-esteem to a place where we believe that feedback will always have value regardless of whether it is positive or negative, true or untrue. You cannot argue with someone’s opinion, since the unwavering truth is that the feedback is their opinion.
As an example, I once received criticism for not attending the funeral for the elderly uncle of one of my team members. At the time, I had no idea that an indirect report would expect me to be part of what I viewed to be a private family affair. But from that feedback, I learned that for some of my co-workers, it was important for them to feel supported in this manner. Had I not listened to this feedback, I would have missed the opportunity to understand a key value held by several members of my team. And not understanding this value would drive a division between us that would put a strain on our working relationship. Lesson learned. I used this experience to change my approach going forward.
Now when I receive feedback, I make sure to:
Notice the steps I took out of my process of receiving feedback–namely, getting defensive and criticizing the person offering the feedback. These two actions are such instinctive “defense responses”, yet they are utterly destructive to improvement in both you and your team.
The President of the World Bank Jim Yong Kim stressed the value of listening to feedback by saying,
No matter how good you think you are as a leader, my goodness, the people around you will have all kinds of ideas for how you can get better. So for me, the most fundamental thing about leadership is to have the humility to continue to get feedback and to try to get better – because your job is to try to help everybody else get better.
Feedback is the greatest gift you could possibly receive because the person sharing it cares enough to make himself vulnerable by sharing his opinion. He could have done the easy thing and said nothing. But the fact that he cared enough to incite improvement by saying something is a trait that deserves your gratitude.
My wish for you in the New Year is that you succeed in your resolutions. Being open to critical feedback will make you more successful–even in your blind spots.