Blindsided by Complacency

Complacency is not a new phenomena to organizational leadership in society or the 21st century. Whether in a business, medical, sporting, or educational organizations, complacency is a lingering “inhibitor” to many a change effort or initiative.

Understanding these growing concerns, today’s leaders must promptly equip themselves with a deeper understanding on how to best lead change efforts and challenge complacency in our professions.

Leading change in our present-day organizations requires a perceptive barometer for determining the cultural atmosphere. To advance organizational goals and alignment, a change agent must acquire a strong grasp and familiarity with their organization’s culture, vigilantly monitoring the “temperature” of the cultural waters. Leadership must discern and determine the why that necessitates the what and how of change, acknowledge the patience needed for implementing with appropriate timing, and creating the necessary urgency and momentum behind the initiative.

Business and thought leader, John Kotter, asserts in Leading Change that eight steps are necessary to leading sustained change efforts within your teams or organizations. However, the inability to gain traction with step one, creating a sense of urgency deflates and defeats most change efforts before they ever get out of the gate.

Kotter notes that, establishing a sense of urgency is crucial to gaining needed cooperation. Transformation is not possible when complacency is high. Without a sense of urgency, momentum dies before the change effort can finish.

The inability to create a “sense of urgency” in your people, teams and organization will usually lead you down a path to complacency. In today’s rapidly changing and evolving technological environment, the overabundance of data and information has been the demise of many a complacent organization as those they serve seek out better service and products when that complacency fails to deliver on expectations. Unfortunately, most realize the consequences of their complacency after the damage is done and the window for corrective change has closed.

To paint the picture in a different light...

I truly enjoy the sport of hockey. During the years that I was privileged to play, the game time bench was the center of activity, filled with wise cracks and taunts. One of which I remember fondly, which was usually applied just after a player was steamrolled by a hit…

Better learn to skate with your head up...”

Meaning that many a player has found themselves caught up in skating and puck handling when they need to be aware of their environment and the hit that may be bearing down on them. Playing “head down” takes you out of the play and opens you up for real disaster on the ice. When your attention is feverishly focused on the puck, awareness of your environment is constrained, opportunities are missed, teammates are frustrated, and the intensity and collaborative efforts on the ice are hampered.

Not to mention opening yourself up to a possibly devastating and/or game ending hit.

Players that refuse put in the necessary time and effort to increase their skills are often the same players that continue to “skate with their head down” oblivious to the game unfolding around them. Those are the same players that are often blindsided by hits that they should have seen coming.

When teams, organizations, and their leaders let complacency set in, and disregard the necessity to continually invest time and energy towards building up new skillsets and learning, they find themselves blindsided by a hit they should have seen coming. When we allow our leadership button to default to “cruise control” and keep skating “with our head down” then we should not act surprised by the consequences of our actions, or inaction.


Finding yourself laid out on your back, blindsided by a hit you weren’t prepared for.


Instantaneous increase in the urgency meter, as being blindsided has a way of immediately tearing down the walls of complacency.

We live in a world of constantly evolving technology and endless streams of data and information. There is no reason for us to “skate with our head down.” We must seize the opportunity that innovation has provided us to grow our skillsets and knowledge and increase our ability to “skate with our head up.”

However, many of today’s leaders will choose to continue to “skate with their head down,” complacent and unaware, often at the peril of the organization and those that serve within it.  When the hit comes, will they be able to get back in the game, or like many of today’s organizations, will the hit eliminate them from the game?

Unfortunately, many individuals, teams and organizations never fully recover.  

While some players are able to come back even stronger, building new skillsets and knowledge, determined to avoid the next hit. While others may get back in the game, they are never the same and spend the remainder of their career tentative and scared of being blindsided, again.

The question is…

Are you playing with your head up or will you find yourself and your leadership blindsided by complacency? And if you already find yourself laying on your back, can you get back in the game and learn from the complacency that put you on your back? Or will you play the rest of the game in fear?

Either way…

The puck is on your stick.

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