I recently reread the book A Sense of Urgency by John Kotter. Good read!
I’m a frustrated reader most of the time. I pick up a book with a good title or maybe by an author I like, only to find out after I’ve invested some time that it’s the same old stuff written differently by someone different.
Not the case this time. I like how Kotter addresses the issue of “false urgency.” When leaders are frustrated or otherwise assuming nobody is doing anything, they can think the team has become “complacent.” As a result, they jump in and create “urgency” around a particular issue to counter their feeling of complacency.
In the second chapter of the book Complacency and False Urgency, Kotter directly addresses this tendency. As leaders, we are responsible for creating a sense of urgency, but do we understand the opposing issue of complacency in our organizations? This is an especially difficult concept for me.
What’s the difference between complacency and the need for leaders to be consistent? We need to meticulously and deliberately examine the data regularly and implement change very carefully. Good leaders are consistent leaders recognizing that constantly changing things –without good reason that everyone can see, of course– causes people to be hesitant to take them seriously. People are always wondering whether this new “thing” is the “flavor of the month” or if it will happen. The leader loses credibility when they make a big deal out of something that ultimately doesn’t happen.
So, how does a leader balance the need to deal with complacency in the organization and be a consistent leader at the same time? The dictionary says complacency is “a feeling of contentment or self-satisfaction, especially when coupled with an unawareness of danger or trouble.” John Kotter highlights “feeling” and “self” as he addresses the issue of complacency. He correctly points out that complacency is a feeling that a person has about their behavior.
I acknowledge that I don’t have the answer to this question. This chapter caused me to think about it, though.
Complacency is a killer when developing an organization, a “culture” that continuously changes for the better. The natural tendency is to be complacent, so addressing it head-on must be a priority for any leader. But, false urgency isn’t the answer.