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Transformational Leaders Overcome the Tyranny of the Urgent

Written by Terri Wallin

Hypothetically speaking, the last thing you do at the end of a week is review your month’s plan by week and adjust accordingly. As you do this, you notice that the same items on your plan continue to be bumped into the following week. Then out of curiosity you look over the past quarter on your calendar and notice that you move the top three strategic organizational priorities each week to the following week. You realize you don’t spend time on what is important in your professional role and the organization. Then you begin to ask “why”. If you relate to this introduction and desire to know the answer to the question, keep reading.

Tyranny_Urgent_Transformational_Leader17798728_sNo matter how much we plan to accomplish in a day, the tyranny of the urgent seems to take over. For example, you take time before coming to work on Monday to plan for the week. When you arrive to the office, the following events take place. A key employee is out for the week unexpectedly, a significant error occurs impacting your customers, a major piece of equipment breaks down and the financial resources to repair it quickly require your review of the issue and approval for the expense, someone hacked into your computer system over the weekend and now has access to your employee files, and your board president hears from a key community stakeholder that your company is planning to do something that may harm the stakeholder’s hundred year old business.

All of the above examples are urgent, not all of them are important in terms of your businesses survival and success over time, but each circumstance provides the opportunity to take you away from any planning for the day, week and sometimes month. Every leader experiences a similar set of happenings and constantly must make choices about how to spend each day. Depending on the size of an organization, you might be able to delegate some of the problem solving, but it is enticing to jump in to help. Particularly when planning means thinking, thinking means brainstorming and dreaming and that just seems like a luxury. And so it goes, day after day with no time spent on planning the future and it is justified by the interruptions that continue to arise.

How do you deal with the tyranny of the urgent? To say it is easy to deal with and manage is an understatement. Typically business problems that arise each day do need to be dealt with. However, time spent on strategic visioning is the job of the executive and it won’t be done without devoted attention. No matter the size of your organization, you can’t escape the quantity of urgent items that pop up in a day.

These proven strategies will help you overcome the tyranny of the urgent:

    1. When something arises, assess carefully its urgency for resolution and if possible, delay any resolution to allow for a planned approach.
    2. Analyze every event that occurs spontaneously in terms of your need to be involved.
    3. Delegate as much of the analysis process and problem solving as you can to one of your competent managers or employees. Expect your problem solver to think through solutions that prevent the occurrence for repeating itself in the future, to the degree possible.
    4. Become an avid calendar user for blocking out time for strategic visioning time for planning. Treat this time as you would an important appointment with a client. Start by blocking two consecutive hours a month (if time is of great concern).
    5. Never cancel this strategic planning time unless it is a true emergency – a fire, death, etc.
    6. Use this planning time to think through, research and study ideas making the strategic visioning process enjoyable and innovative – dream the impossible.
    7. Create an incentive and reward yourself when you accomplish this planning session for two consecutive months.
    8. Study your behaviors that cause you to actively or passively procrastinate and overcome any obstacles that get in the way for you to honor this planning time.

In conclusion, we live in a society where everything is at our fingertips 24/7, such as smart phones, cell phones, tablets, I-pads, laptops, etc. This means we must find a way to deal with urgent happenings that occur every day. Challenge yourself to improve how you deal with your time and the demands upon you each day.

Transformational leaders understand the importance of planning and treat it as an essential function of their role. Leaders who take planning for their company’s future seriously find a way to make it a priority. How do you deal with the tyranny of the urgent, is it your master? When was the last time you took time to just think through your business, its current direction and where it needs to head to thrive? If you haven’t had the opportunity, take time this month and overcome the urgency tyrant!


  1. Excellent article, Terri, and a good reminder of the importance of respecting the strategic visioning time. Thank you!

    Comment by Jacki on July 25, 2013 at 3:12 pm

  2. Great article providing proven strategies to help overcome the tyranny of the urgent! Very helpful to review, avoid procrastination behavior and execute efficiency.

    Comment by Debbie Gold on July 28, 2013 at 11:57 pm

  3. These are excellent tools to deploy each time the urgency tyranny comes up. It would also be useful education for the entire team regardless of position so that all are on board and mindful of deploying problem solving without undue escalation as it happens at all levels and erodes productivity and confidence. Thank you for framing the issue and suggesting alternatives so succinctly.

    Comment by S Hussong on November 13, 2013 at 10:21 am

  4. Good thoughts, Terri! I think what also helps is to reflect, after the emergency, on how it came to be and what other options may have existed. Often, leaders think that no one else can handle the issue when in fact, many times staff can do so quite well. These are opportunities for growth and learning, and ways to strengthen committment to an organization.

    Comment by Linda Tieman on September 1, 2015 at 11:24 am

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