What is IT ?
Losers, underachievers, the entitled and the mentally weak lack it.
Runner ups and inconsistent teams don’t have enough of it.
Championship teams, first-responders, gold-medalists, soldiers and top performing corporate athletes have it in abundance.
It’s how you come from behind, consistently win close games, keep your cool in crunch time, beat your sales goals and perform in times of emergency or crisis. It’s a competitive advantage. It will challenge you. It’s the one thing all great teams possess and it’s also the one thing most teams lack.
What it isn’t: It isn’t rushing or pressing. The more you rush and press, the less effective and productive you are. Mistakes get made and your results suffer. Teams that fall behind and try too hard too late in the game end up accomplishing too little. If you’ve ever coached or played a sport, you’ve been in this situation at some point.
What IT is… It is a calm sense of urgency. A calm sense of urgency is something you can feel. You’re right at the edge of your ability, but you’re still calm and centered. If you’ve ever seen a first responder at work, you’ve seen a calm sense of urgency. It’s not about finding a new gear to kick things into. It’s not about multitasking either. Don’t get me wrong, drive is important but speed isn’t the answer, it’s about purpose, intent and focus. Essentially slower becomes faster.
You see it every week in sports and on the news. Teams that don’t have it break. Teams that do, break records.
Much of what I’ve learned about leadership I learned during my career as a college head coach. I studied what won games versus lost them, what solved crises versus exacerbated them. The one common theme in positive outcomes is what I call a calm sense of urgency. My concept of calm sense of urgency originated from the 2002 season. It was essentially our team’s approach to almost everything that year and it was born of the national disaster that was 9-11.
The afternoon of 9-11 and each subsequent afternoon that week, I went to the one place I always go to do my best thinking and reflection, the practice field. (To this day, the athletic field is where I like to go because it’s often the only place the world makes sense to me.) I tried to reflect on not only the tragedy of what went wrong but also what went right and why. I was praying and looking for something positive. I felt very fortunate and relieved that my wife was scheduled to fly down to North Carolina on September 12th not September 11th, She was going to meet me in North Carolina to interview for a job and look at real estate. (Her flight along with thousands of others was cancelled.) As I listened to the news and learned more about our nation’s response I found that something positive I was looking for and it stemmed from watching how the FAA handled the national disaster that was 9-11.
At 9:42 am on September 11, 2001 after the first plane hit the World Trade Center and the second plane went missing, Ben Sliney chief of air-traffic control operations at the FAA gave an order titled “ATC Zero”. This was an urgent directive to immediately ground all commercial planes across the United States. Air traffic controllers in towers across the country tirelessly worked to coordinate the safe landing of over 4,452 commercial planes and thousands of other private aircraft and helicopters.
A majority of the planes were safely landed within 45 minutes of the ATC Zero command. Within 2 hours and 25 minutes the skies had been completely emptied and all planes landed. How? Thanks to the calm sense of urgency demonstrated by Ben Sliney and his team of air traffic controllers across the country.
As my team and I discussed the events of 9-11 we discussed this amazing feat of teamwork and coordination. What makes it all the more remarkable is that this was not something the FAA ever drilled, practiced or prepared for, it simply happened as a result of courage, extreme teamwork and a calm sense of urgency. If anyone in the FAA command center or any of the controllers in the towers would have panicked, that sense of panic would’ve been contagious and the mission would’ve failed. Instead, calm was contagious. Calm is contagious in your work environment too.
What many don’t realize was that September 11, 2001 was actually Ben Sliney’s first day on the job. He came out of retirement to take the position, fortunately. Sliney had 25 years of experience in air-traffic control and as a result didn’t ask for permission, schedule a meeting or go through layers of bureaucracy discussing the situation. He just made the call himself with a calm sense of urgency.
If you watch a game where a team mounts a fourth quarter comeback or you witness some late game heroics. The success of the drive, the play or what appears like heroics can usually be attributed to the team possessing a calm sense of urgency. Yes, what they’re doing is time sensitive. Yes, what they are doing is pressure packed. And no amount of rushing, trying too hard or pressing is going to help matters but calm urgency will. When you’re in the heat of battle often everything appears urgent and when everything is urgent, nothing is. Don’t mistake speed for purpose. When you’re poised and prepared, time slows down.
How do you teach your team to have a calm sense of urgency? For starters, Share This article with them and have them discuss the story of Ben Sliney on 9-11. It will show them a calm sense of urgency works. If our country can safely land over 4,500 commercial jets inside of 3 hours on the most horrific morning in American history, anything is possible for you and your team.
Make A Calm Sense of Urgency A Cultural Expectation In Your Team
- Huddle up with your team. Define what a calm sense of urgency means.Ask them to describe important situations and what that sense should look like in those situations. How should they respond? (Individually and collectively.)
- Calm is contagious. You want your team to possess a calm sense of urgency, you need to embody it. You can’t give away something you don’t possess.
- Set the expectation that you will all operate with it by manufacturing some urgency. Shorten timelines and accelerate deadlines. Don’t shorten too much. Shorten progressively, too much too fast and quality will suffer.
- Simplify. Have you made things unnecessarily complicated? Focus on one thing not five or six things.
- Preparation: Practice, rehearse, drill… repeat. Don’t practice until you get it right, practice until you can’t get it wrong.
When have you experienced a calm sense of urgency?