Celebrating successes is motivating up to a point. When leaders grow complacent, however, and rest on their laurels, they lock themselves and their organizations into a comfort zone that prevents growth. The job of a leader is to constantly think of new ways to bring value to an organization by embracing change and challenging the status quo.

The increasingly competitive business world is starting to resemble a global arms race. Only, instead of weapons, organizations employ forward-thinking leaders. They hire competent employees willing to embrace change and build cultures that value leadership coaching and continuous improvement. In such an environment, he who stops moving forward quickly falls behind.

In today’s competitive corporate world, no one can afford to rest on their laurels. That’s doubly true for leaders.


Celebrate success, but don’t dwell on it. 

The expression “resting on your laurels” dates back to ancient Greece and Rome, where victorious athletes and warriors earned laurel wreaths that they could wear on their heads to signify their statuses and accomplishments. When you rest on your laurels, you bask in the glory of your past, and wearing your laurel wreath for too long is risky behavior in a highly competitive environment like today’s business world.

The Risks of Resting on Your Laurels

Leadership coaching focuses on instilling a mentality of continued improvement in leaders. Executive coaching professionals understand the nature of leadership. They know being a leader is not a part-time job in any conceivable sense. It’s not a buffet-style undertaking where leaders get to pick the parts they like.

Leadership requires full commitment and immersion in what’s best for the organization, its employees, and its position in the market. Leaders who fall into the trap of resting on their laurels risk sinking into complacency.

Complacency Is the Enemy of Progress

Mature leaders use setbacks as steppingstones to success. Immature leaders see them as damning failures that sap them of drive, motivation, and initiative. Mature leaders know success often charges a steep fee by lulling people into complacency. Immature leaders are unaware of this danger and walk into the trap.

Complacency can stem from routine and the repeatedly successful handling of a task. When we grow to believe we’re good at something, we tend to lower our guard, relax our focus, and go on “autopilot.” Complacency makes us oblivious to the possibility of error. It puts to sleep our instincts and motivations that drive the will to improve.

The other risk of complacency is the inertia it carries. When leaders are in complacent states, they make no real progress. Efforts to perpetuate the status quo and maintain what already exists may seem like meaningful movements, but they don’t facilitate progress. Inertia makes breaking out of this complacent mental state more difficult.

Good Is the Enemy of Great

When we start to believe we’re good at something, we become our own enemies. Terms like “adequate” and “good enough” are like poison for the intelligent leader. While we settle for “being good,” someone else chases excellence. Before we know it, our “good” services are obsolete, and we’re in a headlong rush to catch up with another person.


Complacency locks you in your comfort zone. 

The Causes of Resting on Your Laurels

Success and being “good enough” can lull leaders into complacency, but the real causes of this dangerous state of mind are more complex. Here are a few reasons why we grow complacent.

  • Low performance standards
  • An organizational culture that avoids confrontation and facilitates denial
  • Employee micromanagement and disempowerment
  • Overly optimistic leadership
  • Consistently optimistic communication from leaders
  • An abundance of available resources
  • The lack of concrete challenges or crises
  • Dysfunctional internal measurement systems
  • Lack of relevant performance feedback from outside parties or stakeholders

Business coaching shapes leaders into specialists capable of identifying these problems. The best leaders know how to counteract these shortcomings and defeat complacency on every organizational level.

As a leader, your job is to constantly ask yourself how you contribute value to your organization and how you can contribute more. Celebrate your successes, but don’t read too much into them.


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