Creating a movement for change to counter the toxic disease of complacency

You might think there are limited parallels between Premiership football and the boardroom, but you’ll struggle to find an arena where performance is under greater scrutiny than in world-class football. Few business leaders will be given a window of opportunity only 13 minutes long to turn a high pressure situation round. That’s the reality of a half-time talk. Any more than this would be a luxury for a coach who needs to connect emotionally and rationally when the clock is seriously ticking.

There is no space for grey in top class sport, it’s a world of monochrome where we play to win…because anything less is simply not worth mentioning.

Embedded in my experience of Premiership football is our old friend change. It’s not change itself that is the issue, it’s how we approach it and how we turn challenges into opportunities.

Change is inevitable and, if well managed, it can be an amazing creator of opportunities for individuals and teams. But it can be de-stabilising, especially to the mindset, and if our mindsets are forced to go where they don’t want to go, it can have an impact on our actions and how we control them.

Great leaders understand this and pave the way by investing time and energy in creating a movement for change.

We have to learn to control the process for change and not let it control us. Helping to create an understanding and an emotional commitment to change is critical for team members. High performing organisations demonstrate a greater commitment to change, often at a pace some 30-50% faster than their counterparts (Accenture strategy, 2015). Leaders who spend time creating this emotional commitment will help the process for change greatly.

There are three significant details that have to be taken into account in order to create change:

  1. Influencing mindsets towards change

A poster in my office carried the message: “Where all think alike nothing ever changes”. That progressive way of thinking was the lifeblood of the club, though it’s fair to say it often created fierce (yet healthy) debate.

It also created passion and an affinity towards the environment. Being empowered to challenge encouraged individuals to seek ways of improving “how we did things” and was a backbone for change. It created people who were driven to excel and translated to high performance. Mindsets, therefore, became the catalysts for change.

  1. Mindset evolution

You might think mindsets are fixed but actually it’s not the case. Influencing mindsets creates critical changes in thinking and ultimately, ways of doing things. Individual ways of thinking evolve and so the cycle continues.

  1. Survival instinct versus winning mindset

Having a ‘survival’ instinct is not a trait of a winning mindset. It prevents opportunities from developing and stifles individual growth, often prompting a loss of competitive edge. More damaging, however, is the diminishment of individual drive, which can become an epidemic. The end result is a toxic disease called complacency, underpinned by deep-rooted ‘comfort-dwelling’. Those who exist within boundaries can plateau and slip down the ranks.

Strong leadership inspires people to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and to recognise that this is fundamental to growth. It’s not about thinking outside of the box, it’s about removing the box completely and taking away any self-imposed limitations. Creating a movement for change requires visionary leadership. It calls upon a wider perspective and the ability to challenge the accepted and an inherent restlessness to consider a different way.

For more information on how First Team Ltd can inspire winning mindsets in your team, contact, follow @yourfirstteam or email

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