When I worked at a strategist for a bank and wrote the speeches for the CEO, who was also the founder, he would confuse me with his insistence on always bringing up complacency. As a young MBA with my career before me, I could not see wasting time on such a mundane topic which seemed more of a downer and something your mother would say.
As I look back, I realize he was wise with his observation that success brings complacency and complacency brings failure.
Lesson from the recession: Run your company during boom times as if times were lean.
We have heard many leaders bemoaning that their companies would be far more successful if they had run them during the boom period as they are running them now. Without question, success can bring complacency. However, the best leaders we know resist this tendency. Their companies’ cultures foster continuous improvement and cost-reduction regardless of great performance.
Similarly, the advice we often give entrepreneurial and family business owners is, “Run your company as if you are preparing to sell it in three years.” This means eliminating under performing employees (which can be difficult, even when done with great care and consideration, but is critical), and building cost-cutting and improvement initiatives. These efforts will grow EBITDA and result in a more successful, resilient and valuable company.
As for my old boss, his bank is still in business, having survived the derivatives madness, and has achieved its vision to be global.
Complacency is indeed the key word to put in all your leadership speeches.