The Currency of Success - Interpersonal Intelligence™

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Leading Through a Crisis: Creating a Sense of Urgency

Today is like no other time in history. The unprecedented outcome of the coronavirus pandemic across the world means that economies are failing and there is more unemployment than in most people’s living memory. Now is the time for leadership; now is the time for people to move out of their comfort zones and do something, do what it takes, to put the world back on track.

There is no doubt this is a frightening thought. Because we’ve never been through anything like this in the past, it’s impossible to know whether the path we’re choosing right now is the right one. The important thing to remember is that if no path is chosen at all we’ll remain lost in the woods, unable to see the daylight, unable to make any changes. Action has to be taken. Leadership needs to be the next step.

So what can make those who have the ability to lead stop being complacent or afraid — or both — and start actually leading? It all stems from a sense of urgency. Once that is implanted in the mind, everything else naturally follows. When there is urgency in what one has to do, it gets done; there is no time for anything else. Not only is this something that a leader needs to be aware of, it’s something they can use to their advantage when the time comes to lead. There are four stages that need to be addressed; let’s look at them now.

Bring The Outside In

People are afraid of change, even when they are calling out for it. It’s unnerving and uncomfortable, and despite the fact that the present is just as unnerving and uncomfortable, at least there is still some sense of familiarity, if not normalcy. This makes it difficult for leaders to convince people to follow them, especially if the destination is unknown.

In order to bypass this problem, we have the idea of ‘bringing the outside in’ (see note below). Essentially, this means looking for external data to offer a sensible rationale for why any suggested change has to happen. A good example of this would be a company that believes itself to be the best and is therefore complacent, refusing to acknowledge any changes that it needs to make. By looking at external data to determine just where that company falls in comparison with its competitors, it is possible to show that change is not only a good idea, but absolutely necessary if it wants to stay on top. It’s easy to become blinkered when you’ve had it good for a long period of time, but competition is always there and it will always be nipping at your heels; watch out for it and change direction when it gets too close.

Behave With Urgency Every Day

As a leader, you want to show others what they should be doing and how they should be acting. It is a case of being a good example, and if you are complacent or slow, if you say something can be left for another time, or there’s nothing to worry about, that’s what people will believe. That’s not what business needs.

It is a far better plan to behave with urgency every day. Every interaction, every meeting, every email and memo, every phone call should always bring home just how important each individual task is. Not only will this keep things moving smoothly and efficiently, but it will help each worker to understand just how important their role within the business really is. Far from just another cog in the wheel, they are integral to the productivity and success of the business itself.

Remember though, as a leader you need to show urgency while still remaining calm and respected. It’s a fine balancing act, but it is crucial.

Find Opportunity in Crisis

At first glance, any crisis might seem like a negative. However, there is always an alternative view, and if you can find it, you can find the opportunities that a crisis might present. Seeing a crisis as a way to restore your fight and destroy your complacency is a good way to begin the process; you may realize just how long you’ve been sitting back and letting business happen to you, rather than going out there and hunting for it like a good leader should.

Never operate from a place of fear. This will only lead to rash decisions and regret.

Deal With The No Nos

This is a problem for all leaders; there are always going to be those who disagree with change. They might be afraid, they might like where they are now and don’t want to change anything through laziness or complacency, or they might simply have a different opinion and disagree with you because they want their own voice to be heard (even if your idea is better than theirs).

These people are always difficult to deal with, but the latter are the hardest ones to bring alongside. Sometimes, the only thing you can do is remove them entirely. If they are not going to listen, if they won’t follow, and if their sense of urgency differs from that you are are trying to convey, they shouldn’t be part of the equation.

(*From A Sense of Urgency, by John Kotter PhD, the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus, at Harvard Business School and a former client of mine.)


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