False urgency can be lethal in organizations, and it becomes more toxic the higher in the organization it starts. Your bosses’ boss freaks out and the urgency and stress rolls downhill. Gravity exaggerates false urgency.
How Leaders Unknowingly Create False Urgency
Even if you are an empowering, enlightened leader, 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 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.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
How To Prevent False Urgency
You can prevent false urgency by following seven important guidelines.
- Build an environment that encourages constructive dissent. Give your team the authority to slow you down (see Give the Guy a Brake)
- Pause before reacting. Breathe. Work to manage your emotions and facial expressions.
- Buffer your team from unrealistic urgency from above. Learn to set realistic expectations around what is important (see Chaos Curtailed: How to Shield Your Team.)
- Isolate the incident from the trend. 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.
- Ensure you understand what is being replaced by your urgent request. Is what you need really the Most Important Thing?
- Avoid the temptation to feed your ego. Ensure your team is working on what is important, not doing everything you say because YOU are important.
The headwinds are against you on this. Your team will want to please you. 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?