Alignment Execution Leadership Purpose Trust

Three reasons why ‘Sense of Urgency’ is the wrong solution

Great leaders invest the time now to gain benefits later.

I’m not a big believer in a sense of urgency as a driver of culture.

Every time I hear that sentence, the hairs on my neck raise, and a shiver runs through my spine.

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe in speed. Just not in urgency.

Almost always, when managers (not leaders) utter these words, there’s more to it than just urgency. 

The need for urgency is a cover-up (or symptom) for other deeper-rooted issues.

The need for urgency emerges when managers feel things go too slowly.

Duh. Obviously, that’s the case.

But why are things going too slowly?

Here are three reasons:

1. Lack of purpose 

2. Lack of alignment

3. Lack of trust

Almost always, when we hear the cry for a sense of urgency, one or more of the three above is lacking. 

So start there.

Don’t micromanage your team to urgency.

It’s short-term, creates more problems than solutions, and rarely creates the results you’re looking for.

It’s like pushing the gas pedal in a car while the gear is in neutral.

A lot of noise, but nothing moves.

Let’s analyze these three root causes a bit more.

Lack of purpose.

When people are unclear about why the company is doing what it’s doing and how their personal purpose relates to its purpose, you won’t get full engagement. Without full engagement, things slow down.

Lack of alignment.

Unclear strategy, too many priorities to be executed at once, roles and responsibilities must be clarified (or used as a reason for incompetence or lack of ownership), and decision-making is slow and unclear. Consequently, the energy within the team goes down, and speed suffers. 

Lack of trust.

People often don’t trust each other. Not because they do bad stuff (that also happens), but because they don’t know each other. It’s mind-boggling and striking to see how little leaders of top teams don’t know each other. 

If you don’t know what drives me in business and why I do what I do, how can you work well with me? 

Knowing me is not about my dog’s name, although that also helps; it’s, for example, about my work history and how that has influenced me as a leader.

When you read those three root causes and reasons, you don’t need to be a magician or a top leader to understand what needs to happen here.

  1. You create a clear purpose and ensure your people’s purpose is connected to the company’s purpose.
  2. You create strategic alignment and invest time in alignment on prioritization.
  3. You invest in trust by getting to know what drives your people at a higher level. You invest in the quality of interactions because people often don’t know how to talk to each other.
These things cost time. Time we think we don’t have. 

But, with the time invested now, you will get time back multiple folds in the future.

Great leaders get this. 

They invest the time now to gain later benefits (purpose, alignment, trust, speed).

So, don’t create a sense of urgency, but build a sense of purpose, alignment, and trust.

When those three components are in place, the cost will go down, and speed will go up.

Your turn: Urgency or Speed?

Do more of what makes you happy!


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Erikjan Lantink
Business & Leadership Coach

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