I have always lived my life with a certain level of urgency. All through my school years, I regularly completed my assignments well in advance. As a teenager, I was antsy to leave home to attend university, and by my second year I was ready to graduate and get my first “real” job. Once I started working, it wasn’t long before I needed something more. This led to the creation of ACHIEVE Centre for Leadership.
For close to 15 years, I have been leading our organization through both challenges and opportunities, and I firmly believe that leading with a sense of urgency has been key to our success. I have always encouraged our staff to push harder and faster when it comes to implementing new changes or navigating difficulties. However, they must also balance the urgency with thoughtful intention – thinking before acting and slowing down just enough to consider all the factors before proceeding. Over time this way of operating has become embedded in our culture and is now “the way we do things around here.” This approach has served us well, both in normal times and when managing critical moments.
The most recent crisis we’ve had to navigate is the COVD-19 pandemic. Like many organizations, at the start of the pandemic we were in a critical state. We had a significant decrease in income, which required us to make major decisions around expenses and personnel in order to stay viable. Because we are a training organization in the business of bringing people together – mostly in person – getting back to our “normal” wasn’t going to happen anytime soon.
Unfocused urgency is normally born out of excessive fear and anxiety and tends to lead to bad decisions, increased mistakes, and creates stress for staff and leaders.
This new reality was a challenge, but given our history of leading with a sense of urgency, our team was ready and willing to meet it. Over the course of a week, we pivoted from an organization that offers in-person training to one that offers online training. And over the following months, we fine-tuned our processes and the result was better than anyone could have imagined. We focused our attention on creating highly engaging and accessible online training opportunities – and our clients responded with great positivity.
I believe our ability to pivot so quickly was possible because this was not the first time we had been forced to make snap decisions and quickly implement changes. In fact, leading with a sense of urgency has never solely been about managing crises – it’s the way we function in both good times and bad times.
The need to lead with a sense of urgency during a crisis is not foreign to most leaders, but too many only reserve this style of leadership for emergencies. I believe organizations function better when leaders also lead with a sense of urgency in good times. The same focused energy required to navigate a crisis can net great benefits when it’s used to search for opportunities and attend to day-to-day operational matters. Practically this means being innovative and productive. It means implementing a different idea or starting a new project now – and making sure it’s finished on time. It means striving for great rather than settling for good. Leading this way in times when people aren’t in a heightened emotional state is good practice for when a crisis does occur. It’s important to be intentional about how to lead with urgency, and this is best learned in situations that aren’t so intense.
When organizations and leaders who are not used to leading with urgency are forced to because of a crisis, they often focus their energy in the wrong way. Making a quick plan or deciding on an action does not mean it’s the right thing to do. That is why it’s important to consider if you are leading with the right kind of urgency – are you leading with focused urgency or unfocused urgency?
Unfocused urgency is normally born out of excessive fear and anxiety and tends to lead to bad decisions, increased mistakes, and creates stress for staff and leaders. Although this type of urgency does create activity and movement, it often doesn’t lead to the right kind of productivity or innovation. With unfocused urgency, there is too much focus on doing something, and often it’s not the “right” something.
The act of doing something often leads to a false sense of accomplishment and security. In fact, organizations may decide not to continue to look for ways of navigating the situation because something has already been done. However, doing the “wrong” something is usually worse than doing nothing at all.
Acting out of panic and fear is not the same as focused urgency, which is rooted in approaching the issue with thoughtful intention. While focused urgency still creates the desire to do things now – not eventually – it also allows time for us to slow down long enough to make sure we aren’t overreacting or making a decision or plan that will have a negative ripple effect a month or even years down the line.
To effectively harness the power of focused urgency, we need to become more intentional and less reactive. This gives us heightened focus and clarity to navigate challenges and be on the lookout for opportunities that will not only help us now, but also in the future.
For more FREE RESOURCES on this topic and others, visit our free resources page.