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Hone your sense of urgency!

It is an unfortunate truism that most of us become a bit stale in our jobs after some time, even if we are most successful at it and appreciated by all who work for or with us.  It is human nature to start in a new position with enthusiasm, lofty goals, new ideas, and a heightened awareness of those around us and their ideas for the business.

And it is equally human for anyone to become complacent to some degree after an initial flurry of effort, ideas, reorganizations, brilliant decisions, and early successes.  Complacency is relative.  There is no direct measure to determine when a manager, even the CEO, has run out of new ideas and that sense of heightened awareness.  Usually this is masked by our having a better grip on the real drivers of the business, able to quickly see when things are not going right or people not performing to their peak.

But think back to those first days on the job.  You were ready and willing to effect change, to listen to anyone, to take in ideas, and share yours with your peers.  You spent extra hours more often in creative efforts, encouraged discourse, and delved into new ideas and projects with enthusiasm.

You exhibited a sense of urgency that charged your direct reports, made you want to come to work every day refreshed, and demonstrated to all that something special was happening in their world.

[Email readers, continue here…] Can you honestly state that your sense of urgency remains today at the same level as when you first started at this position?  Few of us could, and that is the reason why investors often feel that turnover in executive ranks is not so bad after all.  The average life of a CEO in the position is shorter today than ever before, partly because investors expect continual acceleration, Advanced Berkonomics soft front cover-smalland partly because a person seems to have only so much new material to offer.  If each of us could maintain that same sense of urgency that drove us to succeed early on, our peers, direct reports, investors, and stakeholders would all notice and respond accordingly.

Challenging your peers and reports to come up with new ideas, solutions, projects, and improvement in processes – all are signs of a good manager still in control of his or her sense of urgency.  It is hard for those around you to slack off with such a whirlwind adjacent.

I have previously told the story of the successful CEO who drove to work each Monday morning asking himself, “What if this were my first day on the job as CEO?  What would I do?”  He kept his company and his peers always thinking ahead, if nothing else to prevent his surprising them with ideas and solutions to problems that should have been uncovered and acted upon earlier.

It is not an easy task – reinventing yourself to be that person you were on the first day, but with the knowledge and experience since gained.  But it is an important part of being a great manager and retaining the focus upon excellence that certainly drove you to succeed back then.

  • Bill Fisher

    This was a great reminder to stay fresh. I’ve always thought that the dynamics of our brain were governed by the degree of challenges before us. When we have something new to resolve, all of the synapses in the brain are firing as the mind searches for solutions, and creating a high level of brain wave activity. As we get more comfortable or familiar with our daily tasks that activity turns into a sine wave that becomes more and more flat lined as time goes on. This leads to what we refer to as burnout. The lesson you’ve offered can help to keep those synapses firing and the sine wave from becoming a flatline. I met you at the Godfathers Sit Down at the House of Blues in Hollywood and enjoy each of the letters you send out. Thank you.

  • Most important is realizing what challenges you the most…and often that is what you do best. I worked nationwide for Ford Aerospace, Loral, and Lockheed in interface positions between Information Systems and customer organizations. There was never a dull day (except people problems…and their sense of urgency). The real challenge was prioritizing which opportunity for automation (best ROI) to go after first. I always had a long queue. The opportunities called out to me URGENTLY from everywhere…and automating them gave me great satisfaction.

  • When I look back on all of the jobs I had and companies I worked for or did work for, it seems that jobs became stale after about two years. When I went to work for DEC, I had three promotions in three years and so did not become stale. Then, I took a job that basically did not change for three years. That last year was dull, and I changed jobs.

    For 15 years, I did independent software contracting for mostly Fortune-500 companies such as Amoco and TI. This work is so intense that you’re always reinventing yourself. Once, however, I was doing maintenance during a recession for over a year. I had fixed the first 100 bugs in three months. After a year, the challenge was gone. Fortunately, the recession had ended.

    Since about 2006, I’ve been an entrepreneur for science education (online hands-on science labs — I had been working on this business part-time before that. There was no “first day.” However, every day feels like the first day due to the rapid evolution of technology and the ferment of the various market segments. If I slow down, I must then work twice as hard to catch up.

    The pressure never ends. Every failure feels like a disaster. Each success is just another stepping stone. Once we get to around 20 employees, it will become too much paper-pushing, and I’ll be ready for something else. 😉

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