Even if you’re the most human-centered leader your team has ever worked for, it’s possible you could be creating false urgency from time to time.
After all, you’re a great boss and your employees trust you. If you think something is important so do they.
Of course, they may think your request is extra important because it came from you, and drop everything to get to it right away.
Yes, you want your team to act with true urgency about what matters most. And, one of the most important skills you can teach them is to distinguish what those Most Important Things (MITs) are.
How Leaders Unknowingly Create False Urgency
Even if you’re not trying to create false urgency, if you are the “boss” and you say “jump” (through your words or unintentional reactions), your team will likely start jumping.
Since it’s difficult to jump and do much else at the same time, the important work you really want your team to do gets put to the side.
And if YOUR boss reacts with false urgency and YOU start jumping, they will likely jump higher or deeper.
In fact, your team may begin anticipating your reactions and doing all kinds of jumping and gymnastics without being asked. More balls are dropped in all that jumping in reaction to the false urgency.
In many organizations, the whole urgent vs. important matrix is trumped when someone in authority has a need. Suddenly issues that would normally fall into the “urgent but not important” category become the most important in a false urgency crisis.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
How To Stay Focused on the Truly Urgent
You can prevent false urgency by following seven important guidelines.
1. Build an environment that encourages constructive dissent.
Give your team the authority to slow you down (see Give the Guy a Brake). Teach your team our I.N.S.P.I.R.E. method to productively share their concerns.
In our research on psychological safety that led to our book Courageous Cultures, 40% of respondents said they lacked the confidence to share their ideas. This article is a helpful conversation starter to encourage people to speak up, share their ideas, and encourage constructive dissent.
2. Pause before reacting.
Breathe. Work to manage your emotions and facial expressions. Your team will take their queues from the look on your face and your tone of voice. Consider the deeper implications of your immediate frustration.
If they drop everything to handle this fire drill, it helps to consider what they’re putting aside to make that happen.
3. Buffer your team from unrealistic urgency from above.
Learn to set realistic expectations around what is important
When assigning tasks, be sure to “schedule the finish (one of our 6 leadership competencies you can’t lead without.”
4. Isolate the incident from the trend.
To prevent false urgency, avoid the temptation to extrapolate one bad occurrence to an organization-wide problem. Ask for the data you need, but not more than you need to differentiate this.
5. Ensure you understand what work is being replaced by your urgent request.
Is what you need really the Most Important Thing?
6. Stay humble
Ensure your team is working on what is important, not doing everything you say because YOU are important.
The false urgency headwinds are against you on this. Your team will want to please you. They may think, “Hey, well at least I accomplished something today (as they set aside their more challenging work.). And, the boss is happy.”
What may feel like satisfying action in the short term may actually be undermining your long-term results.
What would you add? What’s your best advice for preventing false urgency?