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A False Sense of Urgency

I needed to do the laundry, but then I realized I was out of detergent, so I went to write a shopping list and went to grab paper and realized how unorganized the computer desk was and started reorganizing the files and started checking pens for ink. When I tossed all the junk, paper files, and worn-out pens, I saw that the trash was full, but before I took it out, I wanted to get rid of old food in the fridge. That's when I realized a juice jug had leaked, so I needed to clean it up, but when I went to grab a rag, I saw that the pantry closet was a nightmare, so I started to organize it... and that's how I ended up on the floor looking at my old photo albums from the 1992 and not doing laundry. I don't know about you, but sometimes this is my life. I'm really busy....but productive? I don't know what I finished today. And much of this comes from jaded framing, prioritizing, and focusing on my day.

Man doing a lot of things at the same time

Jaded framing of decisions can also impair clarity and create a false sense of urgency. John Kotter (2008) writes that there are three states of urgency: a real sense of urgency, complacency, and a false sense of urgency. The complacency, of course, is us not doing laundry and living in dirty clothes... which might be what some of you have been doing for the last seven months.

A false sense of urgency can lead to rash decisions and untimely actions... like looking at old photo albums instead of doing laundry.

Real urgency is when we know that we will have NO clean clothes left and must do laundry TODAY. That's real urgency. Real focus.

This mindset can be comical in this example but in work teams, the laughter seems to die down.

I was collaborating with a team inside a large oil and gas company that hosted a "needed it done yesterday" type of leader. The leader would speak of any initiative, project, or goal and then state with a frenzy that it was urgent and needed to be done yesterday. The team was always on edge about what new goal or task, or project would be urgently assigned at any moment. The result was a less-than-excellent performance, increased stress in the team dynamic, and a lack of clarity in prioritizing team goals due to the false sense of urgency. These veiled threats and unproductive noise created a team of anxiety, fear, anger, and frenetic activity.

So, here's what I want you to do: doing the laundry or leading a team. Prioritize critical issues in a reasonable framework and do your best to stay focused to see that project, or at least a load of laundry, through to the end.


Leading Change; John Kotter, 2008


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