Intent And Urgency In Leadership

In this life of mad activity and high levels of stress it can be seen as dangerous and unwise to call for urgency. However, excellence and effective leadership is not achievable without a good sense of urgency. Of course, no-one needs more fruitless activity. What we do need is urgency in leadership.

Too often does one find that managers get worked up about the demands of the customer, operational tasks, project deadlines, the boss’s or shareholders’ expectations, the competition’s latest moves and many other typical considerations, but they drag their feet when it comes to leadership. Working on their personal vision for their area of responsibility, consulting key people about the vision, giving new direction, planning and facilitating meetings for optimum engagement of team members and building of the team, setting up one-on-one meetings for feedback and executing plans to develop team members are things that can wait for another day. More often than not these things remain only good ideas and intentions. They never become a matter of urgency.

Some people rationalise about their leadership responsibility with thoughts such as: it is a waste of time; it is not work; other people need to take responsibility for themselves; this is not what I was trained for; I have a job to do; it is for higher level management to do; the time is not right.

The truth is that the lack of leadership actions leads to low levels of collaboration, shared purpose and focus, commitment and general effectiveness. The cost is huge in terms of time spent to correct wrong perceptions, miscommunications, uncoordinated work and poor application due to low motivation. The truth is that people with those views and lack of urgency in leadership never get to develop beyond their functional, technical or managerial expertise. They become a lid to the potential of their own and others’ collective efforts and growth.

Controlled urgency

Once the leader interacts with others with intent and urgency in his leadership, it is infectious. It stimulates energy and movement. However, misplaced urgency can be very demotivating and counterproductive. If in the leader’s communication everything seems to be equally urgent the potential positive effect is lost. If the leader’s urgency is experienced as inauthentic a lot of damage will be done. Pretending his message is urgent in the interest of the organisation the truth might be that it is driven by personal interests or ambitions. Urgency should also not be driven by fear, but by inner conviction. In time people are perceptive enough to ‘read’ the leader’s sense of urgency and where it comes from.

As with so many dimensions of leadership, the art is how to deal with two paradoxical but equally important approaches. Urgency in leadership does not translate to impatience where others can sense the leader’s frustration, or worse, irritation. The leader needs to demonstrate urgency in his leadership and be willing to be patient when it comes to the effects of his leadership actions. There has to be urgency in doing what is right, patience in the expectation of results. Urgency in the empowerment of others, patience in the act of doing so.


Mixed signals of what the leader sees as urgent is also counterproductive. Urgency in leadership is not compulsive or an emotional reaction to pressure. It is about commitment and application in the areas that will ensure sustainable effectiveness. Enthusiasm for new technology, new products, the promise of an acquisition or bonusses when targets are met can easily overshadow the more important commitments for building the organisation for the long haul.

Fuel your passion

We are only human and personal dissapointments, disruptions and all kinds of adversities impact on the levels of our energy and entusiasm for what we do from day to day. From time to time we can even be in the situation where the next challenge is not that obvious. We become complacent. Work, as we see it from day to day, has become boring. The problem is not only the lack of urgency we have, it is the lack of desire and passion.

Even as our energy is deserting us, in fact more so then as in other times, we need to see the urgency of refueling our passion. It is time for ‘timeout’. Time to break away from the usual routines and make new discoveries. Of course one has to take some risks. Of course one has to enter the unknown. Else, how can there be new discoveries? The more important and transforming risks will be the risks we take in our thinking. But often we need a different experience to stimulate different thinking.

For reflection

We therefore need to face some tough questions and face them courageously.


  • Have you made the commitment to your leadership responsibility over and above your functional or role responsibilities?
  • Have you worked out what such a commitment means in practice?
  • Do you procrastinate the actions you know you need to take as a leader?
  • Are you consistent in the energy and passion you show in your leadership?
  • Is it time to prioritise refueling your passion for and purpose in life?


Let us be reminded by Leonardo da Vinci’s observation:

I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.

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