Monday, December 20, 2010

Leadership In a Nutshell

After reading John P. Kotter's book, A Sense of Urgency, I've drawn some conclusions on the art of leadership. This book offers a useful approach to everyday problem solving. These findings (tips) may help you as well:

First thing first, I would like to clarify one commonly made assumption about leadership. Leadership is not something you find only at the highest levels of organizations and society, you can find leadership in all spheres of life.

Secondly, I think its critically important to determine how you as an individual tend to approach problems in everyday life. For example, is your response to life's day to day problems characterized by a sense of complacency (the thought or feeling that there is no need for a change in you or others behaviors)?

This complacent attitude says, 'if it aint broke, why fix it'. These individuals usually have a history of succeeding and hence have no need to look outward for possible opportunities or threats. They think and feel that nothing is wrong.

Or perhaps you are an individual that approaches life's challenges with what Kotter calls 'a false sense of urgency'. This method of problem solving is characterized by frenetic activity that essentially gets nothing done. A false sense of urgency is usually rooted in some sort of past failure.

These individuals tend to be frustrated or angry at life's failures and hence they walk around engaging in all sorts of activity to show that they are doing something, but in reality they are not actually doing anything that produces real results.

Lastly, there is the approach that Kotter's book recommends. In his text, the author suggests that people adopt what 'a true sense of urgency'. This true sense of urgency is a highly positive and a highly focused force that gets things on a day in, day out basis.

This method of problem solving rarely, if ever, leads to a race to "deal with the trivial, to pursue pet projects of minor significance to the larger organization". This approach is marked by a gut-level determination to get results today, not tomorrow.

A true sense of urgency is not concerned with whining or complaining about the past. People with a true sense of urgency actively look for opportunities to produce change and get results each and every day.

Kotter suggests four tactics for increasing true urgency:

1. Bring outside reality into groups that are too inwardly focused by creating stories and emotionally compelling experiences.
2. Behave with true urgency every single day by clearing your calendar to make time for your particular change initiative.
3. Look for the upside possibilities in crises, seeing a threat as a potential opportunity to destabilize an overly stable organization.
4. Confront the NoNos (i.e. those individuals that enjoy destroying true urgency). Don't put up with people who relentlessly kill urgency, whose reaction to any new idea is  "no, no you see..."

Kotter goes on to suggest that the most important enemy of true urgency is a crowded appointment calendar. "When you are going from one meeting to the next, all on different topics, all run inefficiently, attitudes and feelings about urgency drain out through sheer exhaustion. Clutter undermines true urgency. Fatigue undermines true urgency."

How do you as an individual behave with true urgency when it comes life's challenges? Kotter urges that you:

1. Purge and delegate- Remove low priority tasks from your calendar books or blackberry's. See if someone else can take care of these tasks for you. This can free up your time to take care of high priority affairs.
2. Move with speed and purpose- Know where you are going, stay disciplined. Maintain your focus.
3. Speak and act with passion- Articulate your vision and values in a compelling manner each and every day.
4. Match words and deeds (walking the talk)- Do what you say, model the way for others.


  1. Anwar - This is not only compelling and well-written, but has been helpful to me personally. I have no problem with having a sense of urgency, but, after reading this, I realize I've made myself the victim of "the crowded appointment calendar." I've been doing a lot, but not getting a lot done.

    With your permission, I'd like to quote you sometime ("Clutter undermines true urgency, Fatigue undermines true urgency."), properly crediting your article, of course. - JayLock

  2. Greetings Johnnie,

    What's going on??? Its great to hear from you. Thanks for taking the time to read my blog and offer feedback. Feel free to quote the article if you'd like, I would love that.

    I think having a sense of urgency is critically important when it comes to problem solving, the only caveat being that even as one has a true sense of urgency, they must also have a realistic understanding of time meaning that even with a true sense of urgency some problems are so convoluted, they may not be resolved overnight. Thanks again for reading.