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Nesting Syndrome: 10 Signs You’ve Become Too Comfortable at Work

Are you a victim of “nesting syndrome”? I coined this phrase to depict our unconscious — and sometimes conscious — refusal to leave the comfortable circumstances we’ve created for ourselves. When we refuse to leave the nest, we stop looking for improvements and resist challenges from others. We feel as if we’ve “made it” and earned our position, so why rock the boat?

Sure, I can hear you thinking, “This doesn’t apply to me.” But nesting syndrome manifests in surprising ways, even among the most proficient of leaders. Do any of these apply to you?

  1. The unconscious competency trap. We perform on autopilot and, therefore, experience insufficient self-awareness. We become oblivious to the opportunities around us and simply keep our nest neat.
  2. A refusal to shake things up. We adopt the tired adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” which enables us to resist extra work. Our mantra should be: “If it ain’t broke, improve it.”
  3. Failure to create new value for customers. We assume that everyone is happy, neglect to innovate, and wind up like Sears instead of Amazon.
  4. Failure to explore new business channels. We believe our current customer picture is the picture, a movie that continues into tomorrow instead of merely being a snapshot of today.
  5. “King of the Hill” syndrome. We’re seldom challenged because of our hierarchical position, our levels of filters, a retinue of yes-people, and our repute. But when we’re not challenged, we’re not growing. Famed General Electric CEO Jack Welch went from “Neutron Jack,” who only left the buildings standing, to someone highly concerned about GE’s human assets. I used to watch him in “the pit” in GE’s training center in Crotonville, New York, handling questions from anyone who cared to hurl one down on him.
  6. Problem-solving instead of innovation. Fixing things provides immediate gratification; you know if something once worked, it can be made to work again. But that merely restores past levels of performance. Conformist innovation produced Uber, a more sophisticated taxi company concept. But non-conformist innovation brought forth Amazon, an entirely unique entity. (Ask yourself why Sears, a pioneer in catalogs and retail stores didn’t morph into Amazon. The answer is consistently lousy, fearful leadership.)
  7. Avoidance of sharp turns. Fearless leadership means you’re willing to depart from the current road (the nest) and blaze new trails. When I worked with Calgon, they were number three in the water treatment business and were miles behind the industry’s two leaders. Calgon made a sharp right turn, changed its identity into “effluent management,” and immediately became the number one firm in the field.
  8. A refusal to fire people. Nowhere is fearless leadership more important than in recognizing and acting on those who are no longer contributing to the business. Too many leaders find themselves running an employment agency. Keeping these people only helps to feather and maintain the existing nest. If the leader doesn’t fire them, they’ll never go. I remember walking through a division of a Fortune 10 client with the general manager. I asked how things were. “Not so good since Joe retired,” said the GM. “But Joe’s sitting right over there!” I observed, to which the GM replied, “Oh, I didn’t say he left, I just said he retired.”
  9. Chasing money is a top priority. If your metrics are maximizing short-term profits, then that’s what will be sought and rewarded. That’s what we’ve seen at Volkswagen, Wells Fargo, Enron, and other disasters in the business world. Leadership is about creating value for customers and investors. Profits improve value, but so do ethical conduct, community citizenship, revenue growth, retention of talent, and investments in R&D and product commercialization.
  10. Fear of failure and a refusal to experiment. Playing it safe leads, literally, nowhere. We talk a great deal about volatility and disruption today, but the key behavior for fearless leaders is to create the disruption themselves—internally. Abandon a line of business, form a new alliance, identify a new ideal customer cohort. If you’re not failing in this world, you’re just not trying hard enough.

How many of these leadership traits are you “guilty” of perpetuating? Some people are so successful at feathering their nests they forget how to fly altogether. So, when a storm comes along and upends the nest, everything falls apart and hits the ground.

When I was growing up, the major industries were steel, rubber, automotive, and textiles. Not so much today. International Business Machine (IBM) was present, but despite the name, they didn’t consider themselves to be in the business machine business or the punch card business. They considered themselves to be in the information transfer business. Today, most of IBM’s profit comes from consulting services.

IBM’s CEO Lou Gerstner, brought in from outside of IBM’s notoriously incestuous culture, transformed the organization. That was a fearless decision by the board, and Gerstner exemplified fearless leadership.

Who would ever think that the vaunted GE would hit the skids as it did in 2018 and beyond, after Jack Welch retired?

You can build your nest, or you can be fearless. There’s not much of a choice.

Nesting Syndrome: 10 Signs You’ve Become Too Comfortable at Work


Alan Weiss, Ph.D.

Alan Weiss, Ph.D., is a consultant, speaker, and bestselling author. Described by the New York Post as “one of the most highly regarded independent consultants in America,” his consulting firm, Summit Consulting Group, Inc., has attracted clients such as Merck, Hewlett-Packard, GE, Mercedes-Benz, and more than 500 leading organizations. He is the author of 64 books, many of which have been included in university curricula and translated into 15 languages. His newest release is Fearless Leadership: Overcoming Reticence, Procrastination, and the Voices of Doubt Inside Your Head. Learn more at alanweiss.com.


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APA Reference
Weiss, A. (2020). Nesting Syndrome: 10 Signs You’ve Become Too Comfortable at Work. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 28, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/nesting-syndrome-10-signs-youve-become-too-comfortable-at-work/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 7 Feb 2020 (Originally: 9 Feb 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 7 Feb 2020
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.