A Sense of Urgent Patience

Bestselling author, expert on leadership and change, and professor at the Harvard Business School, John Kotter has done it again with his new book A Sense of Urgency.

Expanding upon the first step, Create a sense of urgency, from his now-famous 8-step model for leading change, Kotter distinguishes between false urgency and true and positive urgency.

False urgency is seen as people frantically running around doing lots of reactive activities in a state of fear-induced panic. Such an organization is driven by short-term pressure, frenetic, stressed out, and exhausted. Ultimately, unproductive.

True and positive urgency is quite different:

~ "True urgency," Kotter writes, "focuses on critical issues."

True urgency is alert and proactive, thoughtfully attuned to opportunities. True urgency is seen as people take the initiative to address important problems today. True urgency is energy, responsiveness, cooperation, creativity and teamwork.

Kotter then introduces what may be his most important idea, especially in our current economic downturn: urgent patience.

Urgent patience is the recognition that some of the changes we want to make will take time, even years, to accomplish. But we need to work toward them every day, even if our progress is an inch at a time.

Football players understand this concept. Job hunters do too.

The late great organizational performance guru Geary Rummler understood it. His colleague Guy Wallace says: "Go Slow to Go Fast." It's the first step in the change process.

"Go Slow to Go Fast" means the slower you go in the beginning, the faster you will achieve your goals. At the beginning of any significant change initiative, you've got to take the time to understand the need for the change, to gather data, to socialize the plan with others, to communicate, to win people over, to set goals.

If the start is rushed, the change is likely to falter, and fail.

True Urgency and Go Slow. Both Kotter and Rummler/Wallace are right.

I'm reminded of the Book of Ecclesiates where, in chapter three, the author says:

There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant. A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to tear down, and a time to build. A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them; a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces. A time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away. A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to be silent, and a time to speak. A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

To which I would add this new line:

A time to move fast, and a time to move slow.

Timing, once again, is everything.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, November 23, 2008

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