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It Can’t ALL Be Urgent

Anna Bramlette | 11/02/2023

Connectivity is constant and expectations for rapid responses are the norm these days.

With everything being almost instantaneous, leaders tend to find themselves walking a fine line between genuine urgency and the trap of false urgency. The latter, a state of unproductive busyness, can damage team morale, well-being, and overall performance.

Most of the time, it can wait. There’s no way that every single thing you assign to your team needs to be done right away. Yes, there are truly urgent tasks, but making every task a priority will cause unnecessary stress and anxiety within your team.

Don’t fall into the trap of a false sense of urgency.

Here are some ways to recognize when things are actually urgent versus when they are not, with practical strategies for leaders to foster a culture of true urgency within their teams.

#1: Recognizing the Signs:

Organizations often fall prey to false urgency, characterized by chronic overwhelm, constant reactivity, and a perpetual sense of urgency. Recognizing false urgency begins with leaders keenly observing the work culture. Signs include frequent “fire drills” and a perpetual sense of urgency. Leaders need to be vigilant if teams are regularly working evenings or weekends. Apologizing for constant chaos indicates a potential issue. This step requires leaders to be in tune with the unintended consequences of their requests and reactions, fostering a culture of constant jumping and contributing to stress and burnout.

#2: Source of Urgency:

Understanding the source of false urgency is crucial. Often, it’s rooted in a leader’s anxiety about disappointing stakeholders or missing out on opportunities. Leaders need to introspect, challenge limiting beliefs, and reframe their thinking. For instance, seeing pushback as a sign of engagement rather than a sign of being non-committal can shift perspectives and encourage more productive behaviors.

#3: Prioritization Challenges:

One of the universal struggles contributing to false urgency is the difficulty in prioritizing important tasks over urgent ones. Leaders can overcome this by creating psychological distance, asking questions like, “What is the most important thing for us to do a year from now?” and fostering strategic procrastination, allowing time for creativity and innovation to flourish.

#4: Vetting External Requests:

External requests can significantly contribute to false urgency. Leaders need to carefully vet these requests, considering trade-offs and managing stakeholder expectations. By discussing the costs and benefits before agreeing to new requests, leaders can strategically navigate the demands on their teams and set a sustainable pace. This step is about building a strategic approach to external demands to prevent overwhelming urgency.

#5: Fostering a Team Culture of True Urgency:

Collaborating with the team to establish norms that support a reasonable operational tempo is crucial. Defining criteria for urgent tasks, setting response-time expectations, and encouraging open communication contribute to building a culture of true urgency. Providing team members with the permission to challenge urgency and fostering a psychologically safe environment for dissent are essential components.

Recognizing false urgency is the first step to relieve that unnecessary stress that you’re putting on your team. By recognizing the signs, understanding the source of urgency, addressing prioritization challenges, vetting external requests, and fostering a team culture of true urgency, leaders can ensure their teams deliver strong results while sustaining high performance over time. This approach helps teams work effectively without unnecessary stress and burnout, ensuring that urgency aligns with strategic goals and operational needs. As organizations evolve, the ability to discern and eliminate false urgency becomes a cornerstone for effective leadership in the modern workplace.

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