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Fight the complacency of success

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

by Morey Stettner

A few years ago, a manager bragged to me that he ran a “smooth, well-oiled machine.” He raved about his staff: their commitment, loyalty and expertise. He said he barely had to lift a finger because his employees excelled in their jobs.

Sounds great, doesn’t it?

As we enter 2010, the poor guy is miserable. Nearly half his team has quit amid pay cuts. A few good people were laid off. And the survivors are weary and downtrodden.

He provides a cautionary tale on managing stars. You can bask in your success when things go well, but there’s no guarantee the future will remain equally rosy. The best managers resist complacency and keep lifting the bar.

On a macro scale, this manager’s situation resembles what happens to less developed countries with rich natural resources. Experts call this the “natural resources curse,” which means there’s an inverse relationship between a country’s dependence on coveted resources and its economic growth rate. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof cites Congo as an example of a country suffering this “curse” in the Spring 2009 issue of AJWS Reports.

If you’re blessed with great personnel, it’s easy to grow dependent on them. You may adopt a hands-off management style and stay out of their way. But workers can change their tune if they feel slighted, betrayed or restless and in need of a new challenge.

With increasing signs of economic stabilization, you may think, “The worst is over. My people are relieved just to have jobs. This is great.

Before you relax too much, I suggest that you meet with your best employees to learn how you can keep them happy, customize incentives and support their best work. Dependency is a dangerous thing.


To indicate your eagerness to listen well, stay still. Radiate attentiveness from head to toe. Keep your hands away from your face and rest your arms at your sides. Don’t fidget, click a pen or nod excessively. Maintain friendly eye contact but look up and to the right occasionally to digest what someone says. If you’re standing, balance your weight on both feet so that you don’t slouch. And stay quiet when others talk. Don’t keep looking for a way to butt in and speak.

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