Don’t let complacency kill your organization

By Gene Chizik

One of the reasons Nick Saban is considered to be one of the best coaches in college football is he refuses to let complacency infect his program.

With another National Championship won this week, you can argue Coach Saban is the best ever. One thing is certain, though. He has set the bar for other coaches of his era and the future.

One reason Coach Saban is so good is he always has his players and staff on edge.

The cancer of complacency can be a killer for any organization, but Coach Saban has mastered the process of keeping his players, his staff and himself on edge. While he surely enjoys success, and allows his players to do the same, he is intentional and disciplined about never veering from what he calls “the process.” It is a recipe for success and an antidote for complacency.

Another example of a coach who is a master at keeping his teams from becoming complacent is Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots. Cut from the same cloth as Saban, Belichick refuses to allow anyone in the organization to become satisfied.

Whether we are football coaches like Saban and Belichick, business managers or dads trying to be the best we can be, we have to guard against complacency and entitlement.

There is an innate instinct we all have when we reach a goal. After all the hard work of reaching the summit, we tend to exhale and enjoy the view. It’s important to celebrate victories, but the danger is failing to remember what got us there. When we think we have arrived, we are in trouble.

We all know teams and businesses do it, but complacency even affects families and relationships. How many guys quit doing the little things for their wives after years of marriage? If we stop sending flowers or arranging date nights on occasion, we put the relationship at risk because of our complacency.

I’ve noticed some common themes in teams or organizations that are victims of their own success. Here are some signs complacency may be a cancer growing in your organization:

The Disease of Entitlement

When people stop earning it and start expecting it. This is a common cancer on successful teams, especially those who lack enough mature leaders to keep everyone focused on what got them there in the first place: Hard work.

‘Look at me’ Syndrome:

When you start believing you’re more important than the people around you, it’s a huge red flag. The sign on my desk says, “Everyone is important.” My father had it on his desk as a school principal, and I try to always remember that.

I see this as the same thing as being a diva. When you walk into a room and believe everyone else is less important than you, that’s a problem.

When leading becomes managing

Organizations are in trouble when their leaders stop leading and start managing. When leaders quit putting pressure on their team to have urgency, everyone relaxes. That’s especially true in football, where someone is always on your heels. In business, there is always someone out there being more creative than you, more innovative than you and working harder than you. Leaders know that and inspire their team to have a sense of urgency every day.

Creative juices dry up

Teams have to be different than their opponent or competitor. When you stop trying to find ways to differentiate yourself from your competitors, you’ve got issues. One of the biggest things in business is you have to figure out how you are different than your opponent. That was true in coaching for me. How do we recruit a player differently if they have offers from two other schools? At Auburn, we created a special time to attract elite recruits called Big Cat Weekend. That made us different. It gave us an edge in recruiting, and all of our competitors tried to emulate it. When you stop thinking creativity matters and looking for an edge, you are in trouble.

Head in the sand syndrome

There are so many things happening that you need to be aware of to keep your business on the cutting edge, you have to pay attention to the outside world and seek out honest feedback. Dynamic leaders don’t depend on raw data and opinion from the inside only. They have a broader scope when drawing their own conclusions. The trap after some time on the job is getting comfortable in the echo chamber, where we hear what we want to hear. In restaurants I own, I personally go in and ask customers how the service and food was. That’s the only way to get a true picture. Leaders who have been in place too long tend to rely too much on the circle around them rather than customers or those on the outside. It’s human nature, but it can make complacency a killer.


So, don’t let a culture of entitlement infect your organization. Never stop leading and start managing. Don’t quit spending energy on being creative, and never put your head in the sand or rely only on feedback from your inner circle.

Complacency will always be a threat, so we have to be intentional every day to avoid it.

Coach Saban’s team has climbed the mountain again this season, but rather than just enjoying the view, they never seem to forget what got them to the summit.