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Sunday, 3 June 2018

You Want it Yesterday? Beware the Tyranny of the Urgent!

A very long time ago when I was very young some kind soul gave me a little book explaining simply some common scientific facts and I found it fascinating

I remember two items particularly, one explaining why blood has both red and white corpuscles and another that said that “the world is getting smaller”’ a concept I found both mysterious and exciting.

How, I asked myself, could the planet actually be shrinking?  It took some more reading to understand what it meant, of course, and that was eighty years ago.

I was born a mere 27 years after the first flight in 1903 in a heavier-than-air machine and only 11 years after the first non-stop crossing of the Atlantic by air.

Metaphorically the world is getting smaller by the day and it all derives from the incredible advances in transport and communication technology.

For example, news of the 1853 Indian Army uprising (the Indian Mutiny) took a month to reach London and events had moved on apace in the meantime. How on earth could sensible long range decisions be made given a two month time gap?

Last week a young immigrant saved the life of a child in Paris and within twelve hours 1.5 million people has viewed the video of his remarkable feat.

Sure, the astonishing technological advances in communications and transport have made the world much smaller but at what cost?

We marvel that we can buy something online and have it delivered in under 2 hours, often more quickly that actually going to the store to buy it. The problem is, as a consequence, that we have come to expect that this urgency should apply to just about everything in our daily lives.  

I call it the tyranny of the urgent and urgent is NOT synonymous with important.

Just think about it.  How often is the urgency imposed on us by someone else?  Almost always I hear you say.

If we construct one of those four- box quadrants so beloved of consultants, the vertical axis denoted Important and the horizontal, Urgent, we can start to get a sensible view of how a leader should deal with supposed urgency issues.

If a matter is in the “not important, not urgent” box I leave it to my readers to decide where it should be filed. Much the same applies to the “urgent, not important” box.  That is a matter for delegation rather than actuation by the leader.

The “important and urgent” box needs some thought although delegation with some monitoring is probably the answer. It would need to be an exceptional occurrence for the leader to have to dive in to rescue the ship.

That leaves the box that is absolutely the province of the leader, the “Important, not Urgent”.  Who is the one individual who actually thinks about the business holistically without being trammelled by the exigencies of day-to-day urgent operations?

Vistage speaker Walt Sutton encourages every leader to take a metaphorical and better still, an actual, walk on the beach twice a year to think about the business, no notebooks, no smart phones, just thinking.

Two years, five years ahead has to be the focus, not some specious urgent matter to satisfy the whims of someone else.

Setting those long term objectives, knowing where you are going, and designing the route to take is not urgent  but it is highly important and is the central tenet of leadership.

The great golfer, Sam Snead, said “Take time out to smell the roses”. He could have added “to think and plan for the future".


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