Are you creating a sense of Urgency? or Emergency?

Leaders are trying to get results, make initiatives go faster, deliver on strategy. In pursuit of these efforts they often experience frustration and a constant feeling of pressure to “get it done”. They then convey this pressure to get teams moving faster, but how they show up determines if the team operates effectively and performs, or if the team struggles to deliver. 

If we imagine this “pressure” as a spectrum, the opposing ends may be Urgency on one end, and Emergency on the other. Pressure conveyed by a leader sits somewhere on one side or the other and there’s a big impact to team performance.

When leaders are creating a sense of emergency, we see people running around unthinking and with unclear intent and context to achieve the outcomes. They have narrowed vision, acting in response to expectations and fear. The leader in this situation is reactionary and knows in their own mind what they want, but does not convey intent and context effectively – this results in the team receiving the leader as erratic, controlling, with unreasonable expectations. Leaders say “jump” and their teams run/jump to meet demands, regardless if this will enable outcomes or makes sense. People feel like they have been put into a pressure cooker. Leader’s demand + constraint => react + get the task done. 

Instead of creating a sense of emergency, when leaders enable focused urgency, people act out of ownership and shared goal, with intent to achieve the outcomes. In creating urgency, leaders show up as steady, clear, calm and in the spirit of “figuring it out”. Leaders clearly communicate their intent, broader context, focus on outcomes and enable people to think and own how they might move forward. The team receives the leader as steady, in shared ownership, with co-created outcomes that make sense to all involved. People feel healthy pressure to act in ownership and shared purpose. Leader’s request + new context => respond + achieve the outcome.

Leadership performance is about creating an environment where people can bring their best, and the company succeeds. Creating a sense of emergency where there is none results in drama, thinking impairment and can be incredibly destructive for teams. Sometimes this is knowingly to satisfy ego and a sense of importance or power, and sometimes this is unknowingly. Either way often the sense of emergency is created by a leader but it’s not an emergency at all and very few leaders have the awareness necessary to know they’re doing it. 

So what’s the consequence? 

  • In an emergency, people’s brains go offline and they run to safety
    • Creates fear and anxiety; we see “busyness”  
  • In urgency, people can think, and act quickly to get somewhere that makes sense
    • Creates courage and a sense of control; we see “productivity” 

People can move much faster in smaller steps and where they have a sense of control. This changes the dynamic from busy/erratic emergency to productive/focused urgency to create results and value.

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