Complacency: The Danger of the Comfort Zone

Complacency is the enemy of mindful, deliberate leadership.

Like many things in life, leadership follows a ‘bell-curve’ shaped trajectory.  You take on the big exciting new role, and you (hopefully) recognise the steep learning curve ahead of you.  You work hard – probably doing longer hours than you planned when you took the role – then you gradually become competent.

Complacency Learning
Photo: Pexels/CC0

As your competence grows, so too does your confidence.  You can relax a little.  Maybe even get home at a decent hour on a regular basis, and ditch the weekend work…

You’re nearing the top of the bell curve.  The learning flattens out a little, the rhythm of the role becomes more known, less uncertain.

You start to feel comfortable.  And chances are good you don’t notice, but you start to descend the far side of the curve, before sliding quickly towards complacency.

I have a slightly disconcerting tendency to change roles every 18 to 24 months.  I have come to understand that this is me jumping off the curve before the downward slide begins.  I am very grateful that my innate love of learning has always triggered an alarm bell in my head when the ‘in-role’ learning drops below a level that I feel is helping me make progress at a sufficiently speedy rate.

I am grateful to this tendency because it prevented my from spending five years working in a call centre because it was comfortable.  I am grateful to this tendency because it pushed me to find and acquire new skills when roles were starting to become tedious.  I am grateful to this tendency because it has kept me hungry when I observed others around me ‘settling in’ to roles that were cozy for them.

But as the roles got bigger, the ability to change jobs in order to catch the next learning curve became more difficult to sustain, and without careful management, could have become career limiting.

Today I’ll share my top five strategies for accelerating your growth curve without changing jobs.

Seek out New Responsibilities

No matter what your job is, there is always more that could be done.  If you start to feel like you’re stuck in a rut, and showing up to your job just to, well – show up, then look around you and find some things that need to be done – but aren’t technically part of anyone else’s job.

In a previous post I talked about this in the context of demonstrating your leadership potential, but it’s also a great way to learn new skills, accelerate your own growth and development and re-engage with your job.

You might create a training manual where there isn’t one.  You might map a particular process that you think could be more efficient.  You could volunteer to run the social club, or special interest groups within the organisation.  You could take on a project way outside your comfort zone.

Just remember – this doesn’t work if you then drop the ball on your core responsibilities!

Become a Coach

Complacency Coaching
Photo: Stocksnap/CC0

It might be within the organisation, or outside the organisation, but either way, coaching requires a very special skillset, including mindfulness, patience, asking great questions, exceptional listening abilities, commitment, empathy and the ability to build rapport.  These are all closely aligned with the skills that make an exceptional leader – so in doing this you are building your leadership toolkit, even if your core job isn’t technically a leadership role.

Furthermore, some of my own best insights have come from facilitating someone else’s breakthrough moments.

Coaching isn’t teaching (although teaching may be coaching, so this distinction looks less useful now that I’ve written it down!).  What I mean is, coaching isn’t the same as running a training workshop for 15 of your peers.  It’s a one-to-one connection that is about supporting someone along their own learning journey.

There are also qualifications and certifications available if you want to get serious about it.  Done well, it can be incredibly fulfilling and rewarding in its own right.

Take on Additional Study

Complacency Study
Photo: Pixabay/CC0

Chances are pretty high that this one will not only push you out of your comfort zone, but could also come into direct conflict with your work-life balance – so it isn’t for everyone.  But it’s still worth looking into.

You may find that the qualification you’re interested in is available remotely, by distance education.  There are any number of flexible learning models now that are designed specifically to support people already in full-time employment, so don’t be disheartened.

And if you’re very adventurous, I managed to complete my BA, do my entire Master’s degree, a year-long Graduate business qualification, and a year long psychology qualification, all enrolled as a full-time student and employed full-time.  Not for the faint-hearted.  I was a lot younger, and had no children at the time.  But it certainly prevented me from slipping into any degree of comfort zone!

Increase the Difficulty Level

Complacency Quality
Photo: Pixabay/Geralt

Not all jobs lend themselves to this strategy, but another option is to simply raise the standards and expectations you have for your current role.  Don’t just phone it in… take it to the next level.  And the one after that.  To be specific, I don’t mean ‘do more’, I mean do it better – raise the quality of the work.

If you’re in sales, you can add an expectation that you also build long-term loyalty with your clients.  If you’re a consultant, you can identify and solve additional problems that your clients hadn’t explicitly realised they had (within reason – this isn’t an excuse to add billable hours!).  If you’re a manager, get deeply motivated by turning all of your staff into future leaders in their chosen fields.

Don’t settle for meeting your boss’s expectations, set your own – much higher – and exceed them!

Build a “Side Hustle”

If you’re any good at this, it will eventually lead you to switch roles, but in the meantime, it can be a great way to add novelty and stimulation into your daily routine.  For a good starting point, read Born for This: How to Find the Work You Were Meant to Do by Chris Guillebeau*.

Depending on the nature of your employment, you may need to disclose your activities to your boss, so make sure you know exactly where you stand before you get too far down the track.

Write a book!  Build an app!  Start a Blog…

There is a dark side to this one though…  If you start caring more about your side-hustle than you do about your paid employment, your performance may plateau and start to slip towards complacency faster than it otherwise might have – so be mindful of this.


And, at the end of the day, if you can’t use these strategies – or you’ve tried them and nothing worked… it might be OK to just look for a new job!

Amazon Associate Link

Recommended Reading

Born for This: How to Find the Work you were Meant to Do by Chris Guillebeau

Guillebeau show you how to create your own self-styled career, offering a practical, step-by-step guide for finding the work that feels so perfect it doesn’t even feel like work; whether by launching a ‘side hustle’ that turns a passion into a profitable business, winning the ‘career lottery’ by finding a dream position within a traditional organisation, becoming a ‘DIY rock star’ by fashioning an entirely new profession around all of your many varied interests, or ‘hacking’ an existing humdrum job into work you love.

2 thoughts on “Complacency: The Danger of the Comfort Zone”

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.