Beating Urgent Creep

When do leaders find the time to lead? How many times have you looked at a situation and said, “I need to do something about that, but right now, I just don’t have time”? I constantly hear leaders say something like that. And these are not lazy leaders, either! These are people who constantly work long hours and who move in and out of projects, meetings, appointments, and crises with drive, focus, and energy. Yet, the constant refrain is, “I just don’t have enough time.”

Is this the end game of doing more and more with less and less? Or is it the inevitable result of “Urgent Creep”? Urgent Creep is the process that takes place when more and more urgent things insert themselves into the leader’s schedule until he or she has no time to do anything that isn’t a dire emergency. When that happens, it leaves the leader exhausted, frustrated, and unable to focus on anything that doesn’t have to be done now.

One problem with that is that the future, by definition, rarely demands to be dealt with right now. Yet, the question is what happens if the leader is not planning for the future? If the leader is not planning for the future, who is?  If leadership is about the future, then urgent creep can mean that no one is really leading.

How can leaders find time to think about the future, plan for the future, and lead the organization to prepare for the future? Here are some suggestions to contemplate:

  1. Self-define yourself as a Futurist. This means that you see yourself as having an important role in preparing your organization for the future. If you don’t see yourself as a futurist, it is doubtful that you will make casting a shared vision a priority.
  2. Constantly ask yourself, “What am I doing that I should be managing?” There’s a huge difference. One way to battle urgent creep is to regularly examine your workload to see what can be delegated to others. You don’t do this so that you will have less to do. You do this so that you will have time to do what only you can do. Lead.
  3. Resist the urge to micro-manage. The benefits of delegation can be eradicated when the leader insists on micromanaging what has been delegated. Micromanaging eats up all the time for leadership that would have been created through intentional delegation. Select good people, train them, and then empower them and trust them to do the job.

Breaking free to lead takes discipline and cannot be accomplished overnight. However, relentlessly following these steps may be the only way that you will truly find time to lead.

Mike Mowery

Written by:
Mike Mowery
Director of Leadership Development, Strategic Government Resources

2 responses

  1. Our organization has suffered from “Urgent Creep” for many years as we lost some key staff positions. With time we have secured a few of those jobs back into the organization chart with the most critical coming to fruition last week.
    I can already feel the load being lifted. Competent and confident leaders must have competent and confident personnel to which they can successfully delegate to. I look forward to getting back to being the leader and not just the person who can move from meeting to meeting with clarity and focus. These three questions will be key to moving this organization forward.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Mark! I’m glad the “Urgent Creep” has gradually left your organization.

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