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Sunday, February 26, 2006

Turning Times of Complacency Into Times of Consistent Improvement

Yawn As a church leader, do you ever have to deal with personal complacency?  You get busy... you get tired... you taste some success in a certain area; and then, bam!, before you know it, you lose your motivation and slide into a time of complacency.  I think this is a problem many church leaders face from time to time in their ministry...

John Maxwell shares some helpful information on how to replace complacency with consistent improvement in a recent edition of his Leadership Wired Newsletter.  John writes...

One of the biggest temptations leaders of successful organizations face is to stop thinking big. After a taste of success, even the best and brightest leaders suddenly start to think complacently. When a company gets on a roll, some leaders tighten up and start playing it safe. They stop playing to win and begin playing not to lose. Where they once thought big and new, now they think incrementally.

This temptation is a reality with a lot of sports teams. How many times have we seen teams lose their momentum and then lose the game because instead of playing to win, they began to play not to lose? They get ahead, but then they pull back and stop playing with the intensity that earned them the lead.

The same temptation traps company executives. With the organization exceeding expectations and making record profits, the leadership gets excited. The organization appears to be cruising toward its best year ever, when all of a sudden the focus shifts from gaining momentum to sustaining momentum. The moment leadership changes focus, momentum vanishes.

I like to think of momentum as the great exaggerator. When you have it, people think you're better than you are. You're on a roll and everybody is amazed by your success. When you lose momentum, people think you're worse than you are. Momentum magnifies your performance, and positive momentum can be a potent force to push you forward.

When things are on a roll, don't sit on the ball—run up the score! In other words, when you've got momentum going for you, put the pedal to the metal. Take off. Ignite momentum. As I wrote in "Thinking for a Change", "We are today where our thoughts brought us, and we will be tomorrow where our thoughts take us." When we stop thinking big as leaders and dwell upon protecting past successes, we start to think conservatively. The big thoughts that gave us a big year are replaced by conservative thoughts which will give us a mediocre year.

Let me give you four strategies that will keep your momentum moving in the right direction.

1. When you're doing well, go shopping.
When you're doing well, instead of patting yourself on the back, go shopping. Look around for somebody that's bigger, better, faster, and smarter than you are. Study their successes and benchmark your results against theirs. I did this as a young leader, because very quickly in my field I had successes. Instead of being content as the number one leader in my organization, I started going to other organizations where I wouldn't be in the top 100. It was an exercise in humility; but I immediately realized the way to refocus wasn't to compare myself against everyone I was beating, but to compare myself with somebody better than I was.

2. Stir up inspirational dissatisfaction.
Inspirational dissatisfaction does not mean you are never pleased or satisfied. Nor is it a license to beat yourself up or come down hard on your people. Instead, it's a creative awareness that you can do better. You can do more to improve personally and to invest exhaustively in the growth of your team. This state of mind unlocks your comfort zone and prompts you to keep on stretching.

3. Develop a daily dose of paranoia.
There's a difference between a daily dose and an overdose of paranoia. An overdose makes you and everyone around you miserable. A daily dose is an inner rustling—a pebble in the shoe—that creates just enough discomfort to keep you continually alert and engaged. In fact, the best leaders act as though someone is out to get them, like they're on the verge of losing every customer every day.

4. Continue to set goals that stretch your team.
If you can reach your goals with a "business as usual" approach, then your goals are too small. A goal is only effective when it forces changes, big decisions, and bold action.

The thinking of a leader is contagious to the team. As a leader, you broadcast your way of thinking to your people, and they are going to pick up on your signals immediately. Unsuccessful leaders focus their thinking on survival—"If I can just make it through the year." Average leaders focus their thinking on maintenance—"If I can just hold on to what I have." Successful leaders focus their thinking on continual progress.

FOR DISCUSSION:  Do you ever deal with complacency?  What helps you through?

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February 26, 2006 in Leadership Issues | Permalink

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Another one I've heard from time to time is this. "If it ain't broke, then break it, so you can fix it."

Posted by: Peter Hamm | Feb 27, 2006 7:31:40 AM

Every time I read John Maxwell's stuff, I think, "This guy needs to be a little more balanced." Why is it that leaders are expected to always be going and growing? Why is it that a little "complacency" is viewed as a bad thing?

Persistent complacency is a bad thing. If a leader is complacent for too long, then yes, things do begin to fall a part. But short periods are an indication that the leader may really need to take a break. To push through the complacency can have negative consequences like burnout or depression.

Posted by: eric | Feb 27, 2006 8:40:48 AM

Sorry, but a little complacency almost always leads to much complacency. You cannot rest on your laurels for very long at all. Paul said, "I press on" and "forgetting those things that are behind" (See Philippians 3 10-13.
There are times we all need to "perk up" and get back in the game.
Excellent article.

Posted by: Wayne Cook | Feb 27, 2006 9:17:42 AM

The spiritual life is like traveling upstream, and if you stop "rowing" to move forward (striving DAILY to grow, to be more like Jesus, to see God), then you'll not remain where you are; you'll be swept back to where you were or worse -- swept under by the riptides of the world, the flesh, or the devil. Therein lies the danger of even a temporary lapse of deliberate effort with focus. Think of Peter walking on the water.... Thankfully, God provides the power to continually move forward in His direction, if we keep our eyes on Jesus. If even short periods of complacency are acceptable to God, then we'll find in Scripture where Jesus demonstrated this by behavior or attitude. I can't find it anywhere in my Bible!

Posted by: Judy Foy | Feb 27, 2006 9:48:31 AM

The thing to keep in mind is ministry is about people. It's not about "running up the score." It's not about big buildings or multi-staffed organizations. It's about walking alongside someone and being merciful, forgiving, and ready to share the love of Christ. That doesn't fare to well in the "run as fast as we can" evangelical world we live in. Don't the gospels portray Jesus enjoying life and yes - resting?! Taking time to visit with people, listen to people, talk to people? And the thing about people - they're slow to change. Relationships take time. And when we're cultivating a relationship we may be viewed as being complacent but just remember that you can't microwave a seed into an oak tree. I don't want to be the one running through the airport late for my next flight. I want to be the one sitting at the gate enjoying the conversation I've struck up with person sitting next to me.

Posted by: Bert | Feb 27, 2006 11:04:20 AM

Right on Bert, I find most church activities today are highly addressed by George Barna. I attend a church with attendees 11 times the size of my hometown. (not my hometown church, my hometown)

As one sitting in the audience on Sunday I frequently wonder if I am at church, a book review at the local book store, or a motivational rally for funding. I do not believe this description is far off from most church services.

A big Thanks for those of you that can teach about marriage on Sunday morning and mention it starts with a personal relationship with Jesus.

I will continue to be encouraged with the promise "the war has already been won!"

Have a great week. I totally respect all of you in the ministry who have the courage to speak what the Bible says. Stepping on toes may become an Olympic event.

Posted by: Harold | Feb 27, 2006 11:25:40 AM

Great wisdom from Maxwell, and it certainly serves to motivate and inspire. We should remember to balance truth with truth and take time to "come apart for a little while" as Jesus said, before we come apart.
Sloth, complacency, and laziness are deadly, but so are unproductive business (busyness)and activity motivated by vainglory and insecurity.

Posted by: Randy Foret | Feb 27, 2006 11:33:44 AM

Having worked for a workaholic, my heart weeps for those who misapply Maxwell's teaching - and for those who suffer under such tyranny.

I think Maxwell's article is Exhibit 'A' for why the Church should NOT operate like Toyota or Microsoft.

Healthy sense of paranoia?? What the?

Posted by: Billy Cox | Feb 27, 2006 1:02:37 PM

Let us not confuse complacency with rest. Following Judy's "traveling upstream" metaphor, complacency is putting down the oars and thinking you'll keep moving forward. Resting is getting out of the current for a time (which is sometimes as hard as rowing upstream), THEN putting down the oars.

Posted by: Randy Ehle | Feb 27, 2006 1:07:02 PM

What helps me through it? usally a phone call or an e-mail or a conversation. They generally come from a congregant who is telling me about a disgruntled (why cant there be more gruntled members) member, or is disgruntled themselves, or an interpersonal problem, or just a problem that at its core seems to be an issue of immaturity.
I saw a wall plaque a few years ago that read "beware the barrenness of a busy life"
I dont seem to have time for complacency

Posted by: Layne | Feb 27, 2006 4:51:07 PM

What helps us avoid complacency is finding ways to track and regularly evaluate the things that are most important. We get complacent when we just keep doing the same thing we've been doing without paying attention to whether or not we're actually effective.


Posted by: Wendi | Feb 27, 2006 5:21:42 PM

I agree! Who has time to be complacent when you are involved in a people building ministry? My own brokenness added to the brokenness of the people that I care for leaves me no margin for complacency. Now as to rest? Yes! If we do not take the time to be alone with God or to refresh our spirits, it will only be a matter of time before we are on the burned out pile of failed ministers. Granted, we don't have to stay there and God has taught me some of my most important lessons when I was so wiped out that I could not go on. Still, I think he prefers that we run the race in a way that we win! Some days that means that I have to pace myself and get out of the office! May God grant each of us the wisdom to know when to take a breather.

Posted by: Dave | Feb 27, 2006 5:27:09 PM

I don't care for Maxwell's phrase "a healthy dose of paranoia," but I think for the most part his explanation of it is pretty sound (at least up until he says "the best leaders act as though someone is out to get them"; after all, "perfect love casts out fear").

Complacency sets in when we are comfortable enough with things the way they are that we stop trying to grow and improve ourselves, our ministries, our disciples, our church.... (And please don't jump down my throat for the possessive pronouns - I use them loosely.) It seems to me that each time the disciples started getting a handle on something, Jesus raised the bar a bit. He didn't start his invitation by saying, "follow me and you'll be carrying a cross"; he started by saying, "...I'll make you fishers of men." It was only later that he raised the bar to the level of the cross. Bait and switch? I don't think so; rather, a gradual regimen of training that consistently and progressively added weight to the call, but never more than they could handle at each step of the way.

Posted by: Randy Ehle | Feb 27, 2006 6:22:24 PM

Wow, a good discussion has been started! I reacted to this article in much the same way others did. I understand the underlying need to keep sharp, however complacency is too dangerous a disease to take for granted. At just about the time you think you have it licked it bites you on the backside. In other words, complacency is waiting around each corner waiting to entice us into a comfortable place where we are neither effective for God nor a threat to the devil. Some good ministry takes place in a state of complacency, but it doesn't lead to great ministry. Complacency doesn't earn a gold medal at the Olympics, challenge does. Maxwell may use langauge that is debatable, but the underlying theme is true. The apostle Paul stated, "I beat my body and make it my slave" He knew the problem of complacency. Complacency can be defined by the mantra, "That's good enough" The threat complacency confronts us with and the need to continually overcome it and, only with God's power, overcome the sin that it represents in our lives is what keeps us sharp. It keeps us continually in the presence of the Saviour, who intercedes for us daily. It keeps us mindful that our righteousness, our work, our efforts are never "good enough". My friends, I am not there! I struggle with complacency in my life each day. However, the challenge remains.


Rod Gauthier

Posted by: Rod Gauthier | Feb 28, 2006 11:17:42 AM

The thing that I notice most about "church life" is how quickly "church folks" will miss the meaning of a message by picking at the delivery process. In life, there is a saying, "DON'T SHOOT THE MESSENGER," if you've never heard it, then that's problem, seeing as I am 23 and I know it. But it's not about what Mr. Maxwell is saying, but more importantly what the meaning is. As Christians, we are obligated to view the understanding that is behind both the good and the bad. Mr. Maxwell has it. He understands how awful the state of being called complacency can be, and he decided to share his experience with us. If you don't like, don't knock him. He has helped someone and those of you who are rebutting him are putting Mr. Maxwell up for dispute to those who need this information.

I'll tell you what to do. When someone writes an article that you don't agree with, then don't leave a post that demeans the writter, simply write your own article next week. If the editors of this website view your articles as important as the one in which you disagree with, then they'll post it. If not, there was the safety, as the bible says, in the multitude of counsellors who decided that he who you dispute, has better insight that you.

Posted by: Ray Barham | Mar 1, 2006 5:12:17 PM

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