Leadership With Urgency

Over 10 years ago, John P. Kotter worte a book called Leading Change.  The book studied "about 100 efforts in organizations to produce large-scale change."  One key finding was that 70% of the change efforts "were not fully launched or the change efforts failed, or the changes were achieved but over budget, late, and with great frustration."  After several years and other studies, the author found that this statistic has remained consistent: an extremely high percentage of change efforts fail.

Over time, the author found that he was increasingly being asked to define the single biggest error people make when trying to change.  Kotter said, "After reflection, I decided the answer was they did not create a high enough sense of urgency among enough people to set the stage for making a challenging leap into some new direction."  Further testing and study convinced the author that his initial thoughts were correct and that people can learn to be properly urgent.  So, A Sense Of Urgency was born.

Raising urgency was the first of the eight-step framework set forth in Leading Change.  This volume sets its focus squarely on the subject since the author decided that this was the single greatest factor for an organization to succeed at change.  The author puts forth a compelling argument, backed with actual experience and statistics.  His writing still is direct, clear and compelling.  He does not waste a lot of time or words on extraneous issues.  The author clearly understands the issues of urgency simply through the style of writing and the handling of the subject.  You will not need weeks to complete the book.  You (and I) will spend years mastering the contents.

The author first sets out to define true urgency; what it is and what it is not.  The two enemies of urgency are complacency and false urgency.  Complacency is a concern for, even a defense of, the status quo.  We don't need to change, we simply need to do whatever we're doing, more, faster, better, etc.  Complacency is resistance to urgency and may tend to be a bit easier for objective minds to recognize.  I say objective minds because the author points out that we often don't feel we're complacent.  Often complacent people are convinced they're doing the right things.   While complacency may be obvious, many organizations fail by mistaking false urgency for the real thing.  True urgency is characterized by action that is alert, fast moving, focused externally on the important issues and relentlessly purging the irrelevant and unnecessary.  The author points out that false urgency is typically characterized by busyness, frantic activity without results, meetings, panic, hurry.

Using real-life examples and stories, the author sets forth a strategy for developing true urgency and four tactics that you can use to make sure your organization achieves the true urgency necessary to guarantee your success.  The strategy: aim for the heart or put the heart, the passion for urgency ahead of the head or mental ascent to urgency.  He states that "Underlying a true sense of urgency is a set of feelings: a compulsive determination to move, and win, now."  The leaders of the company must have the passion and back it up; logic alone won't get the job done.

After the strategy, Kotter lists the four tactics:

  1. Bring the outside in.
  2. Behave with urgency every day.
  3. Find opportunity in crises.
  4. Deal with NoNos

In Bring the Outside In, Kotter points out several methods of collecting and evaluating information to inform your organization of the need for change.  He also presents an interesting challenge to make sure you don't let the information create more problems than it solves, by either creating fear or a false urgency.  In Behave with urgency every day, the author showed me that he truly understood the issue.  Leaders that demonstrate true urgency regenerate it; they reproduce it in their coworkers, peers and leaders.  A leader can't create an attitude they do not have.  Therefore, for you to be able to create a sense of true urgency, you must posses one first!

I highly recommend this important work.  The author truly leads his readers, influencing us to accept the responsibility, inject true urgency into our organization, and free it from the complacency and panic that dominate our times.  Read this and be the change your organization needs to overcome.

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