Strengthening Your Leadership Sixth Sense…of Urgency

If you had to shortlist the attributes that the most successful sports teams, individuals, and franchises have in common – attributes that have lead to their achievements – where would you start?

Even after winnowing away the usual suspects like team dynamics, star talent, or even a pedigree of accomplishment, how many of us would stop to consider the critical role that a strong sense of urgency plays in achieving goals and generating results?

The FIFA World Cup may have recently concluded but the lessons we can take away abound, primarily because they are lessons that apply not just to the game of football but also to the rudiments of leadership excellence.

At first blush, there is no shortage of comparisons between a well-run sports team and a well-led business organisation. Both call for a diversity of talent from which to draw upon, guided by strong leadership, working together in pursuit of a shared goal. But, whether it is a methodical build up that starts at the back four and culminates in a striker’s moment of glory, several metres up the pitch or how your office team conceives, strategises and executes a sound business plan, the fact remains that a sense of urgency is at the core from the onset.

But why? While conventional wisdom posits never starting a journey without knowing where we are going or how we intend to finish, leadership wisdom requires (I would go so far as to say “commands”) us to develop and maintain a sense of urgency throughout if we are to ever complete the journey.

The only question is “How”. How do we make a sense of urgency an integral part of who we are as leaders? How we develop it to a point where it inspires our teams and doesn’t overwhelm them? To a point where it motivates individuals and doesn’t hamper their own ambitions? To a point where it works just as much for us as we work at it?

Let’s start with the basics.

Don’t Panic – Urgency doesn’t mean Emergency It’s all too common for us to hear one and think of the other. Emergencies happen unexpectedly and while we can do our best to plan and deal with them, we have precious little control over what is happening around us. Every emergency is born from a reaction. On the other hand, urgency is proactive. It is born from a need to improve the way we lead and ultimately, how we do business. It is that call from within that forces us to confront the ways we are accustomed to operating; asking of us, “Hey, how can we make this better? How can we do this better?”

As commonplace as this sort of thinking should be, since we lead always with an eye fixed on doing things better, a sense of urgency, sadly, is rare. It is rare because many of us spend so much time trying to make things right, we fail to see how we can make them better.

In “A Sense of Urgency”, Leadership and Change expert, John Kotter states that a true sense of urgency is uncommon mainly because “it is not the natural state of affairs” and “it has to be created and recreated.” Which makes perfect sense because a team can become burnt out very quickly under the constant barrage of deadline after deadline.

But, a sense of urgency isn’t reactive. It’s proactive. It isn’t based on achieving just one deliverable at one time. It is that general spirit that links everything we do back to our organisations’ mission statements. It is externally focused on our customers and stakeholders, expressed in daily behaviours by the entire team as it moves relentlessly toward the target; ever alert to changing conditions and improving the way we operate in the service of others AND each other.

Take the Time to Communicate – Clearly, Effectively, Consistently
As leaders, we have a responsibility to talk to our teams. Our teams need to hear a clear, directive message on a consistent basis. They need to know what is happening, why it’s happening, and most of all, they need to understand their responsibilities and deliverables in getting the organisation where it needs to be. Inasmuch as these may be clear in your mind as a leader, they need to be even clearer in the minds of our teams. This is critical, particularly when it comes to the less motivated members of the team.

As we take the time to acknowledge and truly listen to our team and their concerns, also take a moment to consider the ones struggling to work with a sense of urgency. Moreover, take a moment to support them by helping them feel accountable and committed to achieving their goals. Take the time to communicate with them so that they become aware of their roles in achieving success.

This can go a long way toward igniting a sense of urgency in their work because now we have more team members who are invested in the organisation’s success, not simply because the boss said so; rather, because they understand just how critical their roles are and how tethered their successes are to the organisation’s.

Learn From Others
Fortunately, we don’t operate in a vacuum. While we may grapple with ways of engendering a sense of urgency in our leadership styles and our teams, other companies have succeeded, and continue to succeed in doing just that.

Observe them. Learn from them.

Study other successful companies and see how they’ve made it happen.

Going for Goal
In the end, for everyone to be committed daily to performing with a sense of urgency, just like with anything else within the organisation, management must lead by example and set that example for the entire workforce through our words and actions.

What it all comes down to is open, honest, and consistent communication, exemplified by how we talk with and serve our teams, and practiced daily by everyone in the organisation. As leaders, we must believe in that sense of urgency within ourselves if we are, in turn, to bring it out in others.

Once we get into the habit of improving the ways we serve and operate, a sense of urgency naturally becomes sustainable because we no longer think of the future as some far off, ethereal state; it becomes real in our minds and we make the necessary proactive steps to realise it.

Regardless of what we set out to achieve, whether it is leading a team to championship glory or toward service excellence and a robust bottom line, you have to want to move forward if you expect to do so.

Those leaders able to create, maintain, and inspire within others a sense of urgency are the ones who will get the results they deserve. Not just because having a sense of urgency necessarily yields results but because having a well-developed sense sets the right backdrop and creates the impetus needed to pursue the things we want.

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