A True Sense of Urgency

Without a sense of urgency, desire loses its value.
                                                                 - Jim Rohn

The dictionary tells us that urgency means “of pressing importance.” When people have a true sense of urgency, they think that action on critical issues is needed now, not eventually, not when it fits easily into a schedule. "Now" means making real progress every single day. "Critically important" means challenges that are central to success or survival, winning or losing. A sense of urgency is not an attitude that I must have the project team meeting today, but that the meeting must accomplish something important today.

Urgent behavior is not driven by a belief that all is well, or that everything is a mess but instead, that the world contains great opportunities and great hazards. Even more so, urgent action is not created by feelings of contentment, anxiety, frustration, or anger, but by a gut-level determination to move and win, now. These feelings quite naturally lead to behavior in which people are alert and proactive, in which they constantly scan the environment around them, both inside and outside their organizations, looking for information relevant to success and survival. With complacency or false urgency, people look inward, not out, and they miss what is essential for prosperity.

With a real sense of urgency, when people see an opportunity or a problem of significance to their organization, and others don’t, they quite naturally search for effective ways to get the information to the right individual — right away — not when they are next scheduled to meet with him or her next month. With a true sense of urgency, people want to come to work each day ready to cooperate energetically and responsively with intelligent initiatives from others. And they do. People want to find ways to launch smart initiatives. And they do.

A real sense of urgency is a highly positive and highly focused force. Because it naturally directs you to be truly alert to what’s really happening, it rarely leads to a race to deal with the trivial, to pursue pet projects of minor significance to the larger organization, or to tackle important issues in uninformed, potentially dangerous ways.

It is often believed that people cannot maintain a high sense of urgency over a prolonged period of time, without burnout. Yet, with all the alertness, initiative, and speed, true urgency doesn’t produce dangerous levels of stress because it motivates people to find ways to rid themselves of chores that add little value to their organizations. People who are determined to move and win, now, simply do not waste time or add stress by engaging in irrelevant or business-as-usual activities.

Complacency is pervasive, in part because it simply is not seen, even by many smart, experienced, and sophisticated people. A false sense of urgency is pervasive and insidious because people mistake activity for productivity. True urgency is not the product of historical successes or current failures but the result of people, up and down the hierarchy, who provide the leadership needed to create and re-create this increasingly important asset. A real sense of urgency is rare, much rarer than most people seem to think. Yet it is invaluable in a world that will not stand still. 


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Books by Dr. John Kotter

A Sense of Urgency is a powerful tool for anyone wanting to win in a turbulent world that will only continue to move faster. Management control systems and damage control experts serve a critical purpose. But don't let that blind you to an increasingly important reality. Controls can support complacency in an era when complacency can be deadly. Handled properly—and we know the rules for proper handling a crisis can offer an opportunity to increase needed urgency, an opportunity that cannot be disregarded.

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