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How disruptive leadership avoids complacency in the workplace

Disruptive leadership is the antithesis of workplace complacency. If you’re not prepared to disrupt people’s traditional thinking and the way that things are done, you’ll risk overseeing an organization that fades into obscurity.

The history books are littered with companies that have traveled the road from success to failure. The symptoms include disengaged employees, product launches that lack inspiration, and a customer service division that no longer cares. The cause is organizational complacency. The solution is disruptive, inspirational leadership.

History proves the risk that complacency will kill your company

Companies that have slid faster from the premier division to the rank of also-rans include Blockbuster, DEC, and Kodak.

Each of these organizations were steered by leaders who were happy to bask in the glory of their present-day revenues and profits. They suffered self-complacency. They were so convinced of their own invincibility that they failed to notice (or chose not to see) what was happening around them. Managers who dared challenge the status quo were ridiculed or ignored so often that corporate culture became one that mirrored its leader’s complacency:

  • Blockbuster, the giant of home video rental, was slow to catch on to DVD rent-by-mail. By the time it accepted that its customers’ buying habits had changed, Netflix and Redbox were the kings of movie rental. Blockbuster eventually went bust, unable to gain back its customers from the upstart new companies.
  • In the early 1990s, DEC was second behind IBM in the computer market. But it failed to evolve with the market. Its founder and CEO, Ken Olsen, is noted as saying, “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.” In 1998, DEC was still producing its old lines and losing market share. It’s merger with Compaq was inevitable.
  • Kodak was once the high-flier in the photographic industry. It produced most of the world’s film for cameras. It also developed the first digital camera, which it refused to believe would ever take off. It therefore refused to spend good money on developing production lines and selling the new technology to customers. Kodak’s complacency caused it to collapse quicker than the shutter on a single lens reflex.

History tells us that disruptive leadership inspires energy and growth

Another company that was suffering from workplace complacency and had become devoid of ideas (perhaps the fear of failure played its part?) was Apple in the mid-1990s. It was losing market share, its revenues were suffering, and it hadn’t produced a new product of any note for years. Apple turned to its founder, Steve Jobs, for inspiration.

Immediately, he challenged the company’s status quo. He gave its ideas people the freedom to think innovatively, and challenged them to challenge the market. He did a deal with Microsoft, encouraged the development of iMac, oversaw the release of the iPod, and linked its success directly to the new iTunes product. He opened Apple stores, taking the company and its products directly to main street. Next came the iPhone and the iPad.

In short, Jobs challenged Apple’s complacency in the workplace, where it really mattered. He disrupted the way its management teams thought, and challenged them to be different. The result was not a company that feared to face its challengers head on, but a company that created new customers with whole new habits.

How do you know your organization is suffering from complacency?

There are some telltale signs that your company is suffering from a culture of organizational complacency. Watch your people and your managers. Listen to what is being said. If you hear phrases that resemble:

“We have always done it this way”

“We tried that and it didn’t work”

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”

then it's quite likely says that your managers and workforce have become complacent.

Seven ways to disrupt and inspire your people

In Patrick Lencioni’s book, ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team’, a new CEO is tasked with turning a company around. The first thing she does – after a period of observation – is to directly challenge the company’s leaders’ perceptions of themselves, their roles, and the roles of their reports.

How to combat complacency in the workplace

Here are seven ways in which you can disrupt complacency:

  1. Stretch your people by challenging their perceptions and assumptions
  2. Discuss nightmare ‘what if’ scenarios and ask how doing things differently could avoid them
  3. Benchmark against someone (or something) different to your current measure
  4. Ask skeptics to debate complacencies they feel are exhibited by team members (and yourself)
  5. Okay, so it’s not broken. Then you have permission to bend it! 
  6. Don’t ask what is good about a product or service; ask how it can be made better
  7. Remove the fear of failure by rewarding innovative thinking

I’ll leave you with a quote from Steve Jobs:

“I think if you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what’s next.”

In other words, never allow yourself, your leaders, or their teams to become fall into self complacency. Disrupt the status quo and thrive.

For information on our Change Agent Bootcamp and to help develop your high-performing managers into inspirational leaders, contact Forward Focus today.

P.S. Read about other tools and techniques used by inspirational leaders in our article, “21st Century Leadership Strategies”.

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