Creating a Sense of Urgency

Urgency! All you have to do is turn on the TV, scan a few news sites on the web, or watch the stock market for a couple hours to feel a sense of urgency. But consider this–why was there not a sense of urgency before now? If changes were needed to avoid the difficulties our society is currently facing, why were those changes not made before turning into a bigger problem.

I’ve discovered that most leaders solve problems in one of two instances–when the problem is easy to solve or when it has turned into a crisis. It’s when problems fall somewhere in the middle–difficult but not crisis mode–that we delay our response.  So what would happen if we lived daily with a healthy level of urgency and solved problems before they turned into a crisis. Sound unbearable?

In his book, A Sense of Urgency, Harvard Business Professor of Leadership, Emeritus, John Kotter, asserts that “True urgency is driven by a deep determination to win, not anxiety about losing.”  True urgency begins by giving people important facts about reality. Then, leaders must win hearts and minds by communicating emotionally compelling needs and goals that arouse determination. This combination creates a healthy sense of urgency that moves organizations and workers out of complacency mode.

There is however a dangerous side to urgency–false urgency, which many organizations suffer from today. Kotter notes that while complacency in an organization leads to inactivity and resistance to change, false urgency is filled with energy and activity. So where’s the problem? All of that energy is built on anxiety and anger and leads to a sense of panic. As a result, organizations tend to pick up speed, doing more of what they’ve always done, which got them into the crisis in the first place. They fail to realize that speed and quantity are not their problem.

Leaders living with a true sense of urgency feel compelled to make real progress every day because, ‘true urgency doesn’t produce dangerous levels of stress, at least partially because it motivates people to relentlessly look for ways to rid themselves of chores that add little value to their organizations but clog their calendars and slow down needed action” (p. 9). Instead, these leaders are determined to move, and win, now.

What about you? What kind of urgency do you possess? How do you respond to problems? Are you in panic mode? Have you taken time to examine your practices to determine if they are working for you or against you? By living with a healthy level of urgency each day, we cultivate a learning posture and a growth culture that enables change to happen as it is needed rather than waiting until problems become a crisis.