How urgent is urgent? The matrix that considers urgency against importance can help.
If we plot urgency against importance of any situation in a quadrant, the bottom left box is for situations that are neither urgent or important and can be relegated to the back burner or better the waste paper basket.
Then we have the urgent but not important. This is usually the one that engenders “upward delegation” to the leader at whatever level. The best way to get the monkey off one’s back is to pass it on to someone else.
However when it is upward there are two very significant pieces of evidence in terms of the competence of the leader.
Firstly it implies that whoever is delegating a situation upwards is reluctant to make a decision on even matter of little importance and even worse the leader accepts the situation.
Implicit in that is a tendency to a controlled environment with decision making exclusively top down and that means, as Steve Jobs would have said, there will be a preponderance of B-players in the business.
Great leaders recognise that it is far preferable to ensure that only the best people are either promoted or recruited and then trusted to make decisions and get on with it without being controlled.
That takes a leap of faith on the part of the leader simply because he/she can feel isolated. The best way to get over that feeling is to set up regular one-to-one meetings with the top team to assess performance of the business and to discuss what options are available.
In the end the buck stops with the leader but the day-to-day responsibilities lie with the team and they must be given the freedom to do their jobs.
The top right box is for the urgent and important situation and that is one that should, in general, be delegated to the team. Sure there will be situations where the leader has to be involved but just assess the level of importance and then decide.
There has been some remarkable work done on the theory of decision making especially in using psychological methods in making decisions in economics and Dr Daniel Kahneman was awarded a Nobel prize in 2002 for his work in this field.
His colleague Dr Amos Tversky who died in 1996 was famously indifferent to apparent urgency (of anything, let it be said) and he coined a great opinion:
“The great thing about urgency is that if you wait long enough the urgency goes away”.
In general urgency is thrust upon us by someone else. Think about it. It is usually THEIR urgency and needs to be considered in that light.
So where does the leader come into this scenario?
There is one box left in the quadrant and that is Important but Not Urgent and that is the province of the leader. It implies time for considered thought, testing of any decision against the evidence and preferably from a sufficiently large sample, and then to make any decision.
All of this defines great leadership, the ability to promote or recruit great people and trust them, to delegate as far as possible and to devise a no-blame culture where people can feel safe to take considered risks.
Most importantly, leaders needs to take time out to think about what is important for the future of the business and then make considered and evidence-based decisions.
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