5 Signs that Your Success is Leading You to Complacency

Herb Kelleher, Co-founder and Chairman Emeritus of Southwest Airlines, once observed, “A company is never more vulnerable to complacency than when it’s at the height of its success.” So how do you know if your success is leading you to complacency? Here are five signs to consider: 

1.  You’re Enamored by the Scoreboard – When a leader is enamored by his organization’s #1 ranking, he forgets to man the cockpit. Accolades, statistics, and requests for interviews cloud his vision and fill his heart with pride. As Jim Collins observes, Hubris Born of Success is where organizational decline begins.

2.  The Organization and Its Leaders Have an Aversion to Risk – The higher you go the farther you have to fall. That reality breeds fear because leaders recognize what’s at stake if they risk too much. The problem is, they forget what’s at stake if they don’t risk at all. Pretty soon innovative adventures on the open sea are docked at the harbor of safety.

3.  A Culture of Discipline Wains – I’m not talking about disciplining employees, but rather disciplined action. It’s amazing how quickly organizations act without discipline in the areas of time, talent, and resources. When times are good, organizations tend to put on “fat.” That loss of discipline embeds itself in the culture and simultaneously blurs vision and drains passion.

4.  The Organization’s Learning Posture is Relaxed – If you’re successful, people look to you as the expert. That reality is a wet blanket on an organization’s fire for innovation and learning. Success makes leaders think, “I can relax my learning posture…after all, I’m the teacher now.” The problem is, if you’re always the teacher and never the student, one day what you teach will no longer matter…and your organization just might be out of business.

5.  Organizational Measurements are Ignored or Misinterpreted – When an organization experiences success, especially for a decent length of time, it’s easy to assume you’ll always be successful. The pressure also increases (internally and externally) to remain at the top. That’s when organizational measurements are conveniently ignored, misinterpreted or even manipulated. When this happens, mediocrity strangely resembles success. 

Questions: Which of these five signs have you observed in organizations? What other signs would you add to the list? Which is your greatest temptation?