A Major Lesson in Leadership From the Massachusetts Election


It’s been the second biggest news story of the week – and if not for the horrific disaster in Haiti, it would have been #1.  After 47 years in the hands of a Democrat, the Massachusetts Senate seat of deceased Edward Kennedy will now be occupied by a Republican.

This article isn’t about political posturing, ads run and tea party uprisings.  But it is about a mistake made – a mistake that all of us are susceptible to, and one that as leaders we must guard against personally and be vigilant of within our organizations.

The mistake?


Staying above the political fray, and certainly not being an expert in the Massachusetts political scene, one thing is clear.  One major reason, if not the single most important one, that Scott Brown will soon be Senator Scott Brown is that Ms Coakley thought she had the seat won.  This isn’t to say she didn’t campaign or work, but deep down, I’m confident, and this is corroborated by much  of the speculation I’ve read, that she and the whole Party thought it was just an exercise, just a necessary step before she made her way to Washington.

Complacency is a dangerous thing.

I have a long time client that has made major strides on some cultural changes.  They are doing, by all accounts and substantiated by data, doing exceptionally well.  My biggest concern for them now isn’t a lack or failing in competence or commitment, but in complacency.  If they become complacent and even stay static, they will immediately begin to lose ground literally and psychologically as well.

Let me bring this a bit closer to home.

  • Ever lost a long time Customer?
  • Ever lost a friendship?
  • Had a working relationship deteriorate?
  • Lose sight of a critical strategic issue or initiative after it was going very well?
  • Had a strong, committed team member leave unexpectedly?

While none of these will be blamed on complacency on the surface, chances are, underneath the spin and posturing, you will find complacency.  Sound familiar Ms. Coakley?

While I have used Ms. Coakley as my example, hear me clearly.  I am not speaking to her, but to you (and me).  Ask yourself these questions, as a start.

In what parts of your life and business are you complacent? 

Where are you letting well enough alone?

Where are things going exceptionally well or running on auto pilot?

What habit or strategy has been very successful for you, but you are now unconsciously neglecting or ignoring?

As high achievers we must answer these questions for ourselves, and as leaders we must consider the cancer of complacency carefully.

I’ll write more about this in the coming days and weeks, about the focus that is required, the balance of priorities, and some additional tools to help us deal with these important factor.

For now, make the two sets of questions I asked above be your leadership activity for the day.  Whether you are in executive leadership, a first line supervisor, or aspiring to those roles, consider the role of complacency in your work and the work of those around you.

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  1. colin syme says

    Whatever happens from now on the result must be a victory for democracy and shows that no one has the “right” to be elected by way of a coronation. This is a good thing for America and l hope that this trend continues in both the Right and left stratospheres equally,- for no other reason than it will confuse those who set out to corrupt politicians and make uncertainty as who to back a bane in their life.

  2. says

    Hi Kevin, good thoughts here. Complancency is always a challenge and part of the reason for it is that once we deal with a “problem” it goes into the “problem solved category” and no longer gets our attention. We then move on to our other quadrant one (borrowing from Covey here) problems (urgent, and important) while problems we have solved go to quadrant two (or worse), (important but not urgent). Your column is a good reminder about time management to ensure these “solved” problems don’t move back to quadrant one.

  3. says

    “The great menace to the life of an industry is industrial self-complacency.” – Joyce Carol Oates

    Thanks for the thoughtful article. I second Jerry’s Comment! The “Problem Solved” label should never be applied with rubber cement.

    Glenn Friesen
    Impact Learning


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