How to Avoid Headless Chicken Syndrome

When I think about the people I admire the most, they all have a similar trait.

A high sense of urgency.

At times this can be exhausting (their perception of what is urgent can become the default for everything).

In the majority of cases this style is inspiring.

It encourages you to focus on the goal and the importance of achieving it.

It is great to have someone supporting you, someone who is always in a high state of urgency.
Why is this great? Well, because, most of us find it difficult to live a sense of urgency with everything.


The Reality

The normal state for most people is one of calm and focus.

You know your job, the expectation that comes with it and you deliver most of the time.

To show a high sense of urgency with everything feels unnatural for most people.

Some of you may even associate urgency with rushing and feeling stressed or anxious.

Nobody likes to feel rushed, especially if the feeling is triggered via someone else. Leave me alone, right?

The times where we do adopt a sense of urgency tend to follow the same pattern.

  • You have a deadline approaching
  • You have missed the deadline(argh!)
  • You have a goal you are passionate about
  • You have an exam/test/interview
  • Something has gone wrong and you are trying to fix it

Here, most people are happy to go into urgent mode and adapt their style.

Once the deadline or goal is achieved, or you survive the interview, you return to your normal state.

                                     You Have 30 Minutes to Save Your Day

The Benefits

If most people struggle to stay in a state of high urgency, what are the benefits for doing so?

Having a sense of urgency is not about running round the office like a headless chicken. Nor is it about running round the office and micromanaging everyone.

It is about demonstrating a desire to get things done.

It is about being the most productive and efficient version of yourself. In doing so you will influence those around you to think and act in a similar manner.

I have a great example of how powerful a sense of urgency can be.

A Project was becoming bloated and in danger of not meeting a key deadline.

The view of the PM was poor so my Boss, who was well-known for showing a high sense of urgency, started to lead a new direction.

New actions had been set in the previous meeting to steer the project back on course.

The meeting started and my Boss asked for an update on the previous actions set.


A few excuses were muttered but the project were no further forward.

What would you do in this scenario?

Extend the deadline?

My Boss stood up and closed the meeting. It had only been open for five minutes!

He expressed his disappointment at the excuses and the lack of progress.

He told everyone to be back in the same room, in three hours time, he wanted the actions closed.

Everyone now had a high sense of urgency!

There was no shouting or recriminations. The exchange demonstrated a high sense of urgency. The Project were clear that failure or further delays were not acceptable.

                                     Five Time Saving Techniques to Improve Your Day

Overcoming Obstacles and Barriers

Not everyone has this low tolerance for progress.

We allow our forgiving nature to come through.

We don’t want to get involved in conflict and upset someone.

We want to considered as being generally good and decent. We give people a second, third and fourth chance.

How can we reduce some of the generosity and start to live a life that shows a sense of urgency?

  • Set clear and defined goals including deadline dates. You and your team have to know why they are doing something and how they are going to do it.
  • Recognise individuals or teams that show a sense of urgency. If you want to develop a culture where urgency is key, praise for success and failure (see below) will be vital.
  • Think about urgency from a different viewpoint. If you were self-employed, with your money on the line, how would you react and what difference would you make?
  • Know that you will have to make a decision without all the facts available. No decision is worse than sitting on the fence – even if it turns out to be the wrong decision.  
  • Don’t punish anyone showing a sense of urgency but gets it wrong. Nurture them, help them, be patient and supportive – they will get there.
  • Be tenacious and remove obstacles for your team. Don’t accept no as an answer – there will often be another solution. See any obstacle as an opportunity and not as a problem.
  • Deliver. Being productive and shrinking the ‘to do’ list is good, but not at the expense of the end result.
  • Always ask ‘Why am I doing what I’m doing?’ In other words is the activity/task helping you in achieving your goal?
  • Don’t allow meetings to turn into other meetings. Document actions, who the action is assigned to and agree on a completion date (challenge if the time line feels too slow).
  • Remember, a sense of urgency is not about rushing everywhere. This will only increase the number of mistakes made, creating more work. It is also likely to unsettle people.
  • What is important is having a purpose and making sure everything you do is aligned to this purpose.
  • Think about the other person. You may not think the issue is urgent but it may be incredibly urgent to them.

Having a sense of urgency is often a key trait of a great leader. If you don’t show a sense of urgency you have the opportunity to change this. The above hints and tips are easy to do and support others with.

Showing others is the first step in inspiring your people to show the same sense of urgency.

What are you waiting for? Go out there and inspire!

Believe and take action.

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Ian Ruane

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