February 5

The Demise of Healthy Urgency


There is an interesting phenomenon happening. The sense of "urgency" to get things done appears to be diminishing. Don't get me wrong, I am not talking about panic, or anxiety, or stress, or fear; negative forms of urgency. I am talking about healthy urgency that brings problem resolution, good decision making, accomplishment, and innovation. Do you see this too?

Urgency As A Mindset

If you look around, you will see different people with very different ideas on getting things done. Some of this is a personality thing:

  • High D (dominance) people are driven and have an internal clock that runs at high speed
  • High I (influence/inclusion) people are focused on people and innovating, trying new things
  • High S (steadiness) people are focused on the task, wanting to complete one before moving to the next
  • High C (compliance) people are focused on how to do it right and getting all the details
 As you can guess, there are inherent conflicts possible with the differing approaches. Just for the sake of our focus, let's set those aside and consider urgency from a more holistic perspective.

Urgency As A Competency

Think about urgency as a driving force to provide the motivation and energy to complete things within a specific time frame. Not at the expense of wellness or balance, simply as an internal (intrinsic) motivator. There is a myth that if you have too much urgency then you are a "type A" and it is not necessarily a good thing.

Where does healthy urgency come from? There is actually a sequence that describes this:

Beliefs and values > what you are passionate about > emotional drivers > self-talk > decisions and actions (getting things done)

In this sequence, the > sign stands for "generates". So, is this something that happens organically or can you intentionally change this? The answer...both. The things you have passion for will generate emotional drivers that give you energy and direction. Your self-talk then becomes the affirmation and encouragement to make decisions and take actions.

If we look at urgency as a competency, something that we can become passionate about, then we demystify what urgency is and can use it as a strategic resource. It is not something that takes over our lives or lessens our social skills. It actually enhances our soft skills because it moves us to communicate and interact with others more efficiently. Can some people take urgency too far...sure. However, when that happens, it is highly likely it shows up in one of the negative forms of urgency. Let's stay focused on the positive.

Photo by <a href="https://unsplash.com/@profwicks?utm_content=creditCopyText&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=unsplash">Ben Wicks</a> on <a href="https://unsplash.com/photos/red-and-yellow-stop-sign-zwN1MwCtR5Y?utm_content=creditCopyText&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=unsplash">Unsplash</a>

Roadblocks to Healthy Urgency

So, why is urgency diminishing? Recent research has brought to light some very concerning facts:

  • The world is facing a human energy crisis - at home and at work. Well-being scores continue to decline; rates of burnout, social isolation and emotional detachment are at all-time highs. These issues are especially concerning for younger generations. (SOH Report 2023)
  • In 2020, our society concluded that sickness and potential death by a coronavirus must be stopped at all costs. The United States subsequently shut down a $20+ trillion economy -- bankrupting countless small businesses -- and closed schools. All of this combined to put employees, families and kids in an unimaginable state of uncertainty. This new state of uncertainty grinds the life out of people a little bit every day. (Gallup - The Mood of the World)
  • In a 2020 worldwide survey, Gallup found that roughly seven in 10 people are struggling or suffering in their lives. (Gallup - The Mood of the World)
  • Microsoft’s Work Trends report found that over half of employees (53%) say they are more likely to prioritize health and well-being over work than before the pandemic, particularly parents (55%) and women (56%). (Microsoft (2022, March 16). 2022 Work Trend Index:Annual Report)
  • More than half of managers (53%) report feeling burned out at work. (Microsoft (2022, March 16). 2022 Work Trend Index: Annual Report)

These are sobering insights. If we consider the impact of these facts, there is a clear reason we see healthy urgency diminishing:

  1. People are fatigued. Change fatigue, stress fatigue, uncertainty fatigue, economic pressure fatigue.
  2. The increased demands on people are draining their energy and focus.
  3. Major life events like the pandemic have altered peoples' lives and habits.
  4. Remote work has become the preferred way of working for a large portion of the workforce. This has introduced new challenges and distractions.
  5. Employees are juggling more than ever before.
  6. Leaders/managers are asked to do more, be more, and accomplish more with less resources.

No wonder there is a declining sense of urgency. With 53% of managers in burnout (a very serious condition) and 70% of the population struggling or suffering, who has any energy left to get things done with any sense of urgency. But...some people are still operating in a highly efficient manner. How are they doing that?

The Secret To Leveraging Urgency

Think about a habit you would like to change that you struggle with. What have you tried to change that habit? Why did that not work? Why do New Year's resolutions fail the majority of the time? The answer is more simple than you might think. We all have productive and counter-productive habits. That makes sense. But here is something most people don't know:

When we engage in developing ourselves, both productive and counter-productive habits are boosted!

Sounds crazy, right? But it's true. The more we try to improve ourselves, both productive and counter-productive habits are strengthened. What happens then is that the counter-productive habits drag the productive habits down , resulting in no real gain. Does that mean don't try to grow and develop? NO! The key is to reduce the counter-productive habits FIRST. If you would like to explore this further, go here.

Am I saying that counter-productive habits are blocking healthy urgency...YES! What I have not yet mentioned is that our habits have strong emotional drivers. Think of a time you wanted to change something but then had a feeling that derailed you from making that change.


I was talking to someone recently who was concerned about their pipeline of prospects. They told me where they were, then gave me 5 things they needed to do to enhance their pipeline. These are the same 5 things that they have told me for the last 12 months. We spent some time exploring this, and I asked several questions. I have a process I use where I ask a series of questions (5 times) to get to the heart of an issue; Starting question; "When you think (fill in the blank) how do you feel and what do you do?" The next question: "Then what do you do", and repeat this 4 times. It is amazing how effective this process is to get to the heart of the issue. In every case, what was keeping him stuck were emotional detractors that kept strengthening his counter-productive habits. This is a clear case where healthy urgency has diminished so things are not getting done to improve the situation. So many people resign themselves to a reality that could be changed but will not be until counter-productive habits are diminished.

Leader's Insights

Actually, we are all leaders. We lead ourselves, then we can lead others. Whatever your role, developing urgency as a strategic competency has many benefits. Unfortunately, most leaders I talk to do not see this in their workplace. We have to be intentional if we want this to change.

  • Leaders' first - practice healthy urgency as an aspect of getting things done, then celebrate the wins. Set the example.
  • Don't assume your people know what you expect. It is your job to ensure they understand expectations the same way that you do. Then celebrate with them when they display healthy urgency in getting things done.
  • If you or your people exhibit symptoms of burnout, do something about it! It will not resolve on its own.
  • Develop emotional intelligence skills to become more agile and resilient. Then help build those in your team. Here is more on how to support your team.
  • Leaders are learners - that is critical in today's fast changing and dynamic workplace. (more resources for you in the coming weeks)
Healthy urgency, just like other skills and competencies, can be enhanced and increased. First, we need to remove the counter-productive habits that are holding you back. Then you can be more intentional and effective in getting you where you want to go. That is something to be urgent about!


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