The Dangers of Resting on Your Laurels

This post continues the series I’ve been writing this summer about on Stephen M. R. Covey’s book, The Speed of Trust. For those who have taken training based on the book (such as Inspiring Trust, or Leading at the Speed of Trust), you know the materials include what looks like a deck of cards. People love these Trust Action Cards!

Each card details one of the 13 Behaviors Covey outlines in his book as the keys to building and maintaining trust. The front provides a simple, hand-held reminder of what the right behaviors look like, as well as what the Opposite behaviors look like. The back gives examples of What to Say to demonstrate the behavior, as well as illustrates Counterfeit manifestations of the behavior (when someone demonstrates the opposite).

This time the focus is on Get Better. At first glance, this might appear as a simple concept. But I invite you to think hard about the Opposite and the Counterfeits outlined below. Let them sink in.

The FRONT of the card says:

  • Definition: Continuously improve. Increase your capabilities. Be a constant learner. Develop feedback systems – both formal and informal. Act upon the feedback you receive. Thank people for feedback. Don’t consider yourself above feedback. Don’t assume your knowledge and skills will be sufficient for tomorrow’s challenges.
  • Opposite:To deteriorate; to “rest on your laurels”; to become irrelevant

The BACK of the card says:

What to Say (examples):

  • Where can I get better? How am I doing now?

To the team

  • What specifically do we need to do better (systems, structures, processes)?
  • How are we doing now?
  • How will we get regular feedback?

Counterfeit: Making “flavor of the month” improvements that never take hold. Continually learning but never producing. Talking a good game about improving, but never doing it. Trying to force-fit everything into what you’re good at doing.

Recently I heard references to individuals who were perceived by others to be “coasting” at this point in their careers because everyone knew they were about to retire. That’s “resting on your laurels” – intentional or not.

At the opposite end of the generational spectrum, Millenials who are still rather new to the workforce, are often shocked when they receive their first performance appraisal and it includes developmental feedback on how to improve. The Trophy Generation became accustomed to praise for participation alone, so the concept of receiving anything other than accolades does not feel “normal” for many in this crowd.

For most of us, the day-to-day reality lies somewhere between these two extremes. Making one’s own professional development a priority gets lost in the shuffle with:

  • High-visibility projects at work (your bonus may depend on their success)
  • The juggling act going on at home (making it difficult to pursue more time away)
  • Conflicting emotions over what you really WANT out of your career

The good news is that social media now brings learning to you in more ways than ever before. So you don’t have to leave home, or even leave the office to learn, grow and develop. You just have to make the commitment to carve out the time in your busy schedule to participate in webinars, follow experts on Twitter, or interact in online forums through professional associations or LinkedIn groups.

However, value remains in making the time to dedicate a couple of days to get away and focus on investing in your career and your development (or that of your team to improve processes, etc). For individuals in a highly technical field like information technology, research and development, or even more so in accounting or law where regulations / requirements change frequently, staying on top of the latest developments may be what enables you to remain relevant year over year in your field for your customers.

Get Better is one of the 13 Behaviors in the Speed of Trust because, over time, if you don’t continue to learn and improve, you make it difficult for those around you to trust you and the work you produce.

Betsy Winkler is a Partner at PeopleResults and certified facilitator for Inspiring Trust. She can be reached on email at or on Twitter at @BetsyWinkler1.