Admit you love the chaos and enlist your team to help you change--or risk losing them.
Superheroes are fun to watch in movies, but they are exhausting to work for.
Risking it all to save the day at the last minute, there's no doubt that it can be thrilling and nerve-wracking and emotional. It's also a lousy way to run an office.
Too many business leaders are addicted to crises. They need everything done immediately. While the outside world teeters, they remain calm under pressure and thrive under deadlines. They get their validation by being the one and only person who can grapple with it, fix it, and emerge triumphant.
Fire drills are fatiguing
But a true executive must lead, not rescue. No leader can succeed without an excellent team. And a team that is subjected to crisis after crisis is a fatigued team. If you wear everybody out with constant urgency, you're going to lose good people.
Covid-19 has pushed to the forefront some of the big questions about work and careers: Why do I do this? Is all the stress worth it? Do I really need to tie my stomach in knots for a living?
Workers who feel wiped out by a relentless stream of emergencies are going to flee.
Eventually and inevitably, you'll also start putting out a product that seems designed by shortcut. The urgency-addicted boss is going to be exposed as a "win the battle but lose the war" kind of person.
If any of this sounds familiar, then it's time to reset your leadership style.
Clarity over chaos
The first step to overcoming urgency addiction is to recognize that you have it. There are people who say, "I love a good crisis." Intense pressure allows them to wield those hero skills and complete those hail mary passes. Their personal brand is coolness and toughness.
But effective leadership is not all about you. It's about a sustainable culture moving in the right direction. A business team thrives under clarity, not chaos.
The right solution is to talk to your team about it. This doesn't have to be a big dramatic meeting. Just call people around and have a casual, self-effacing conversation where you say, "Hey, I've been thinking about ways I could better contribute to our team culture and clarity. And I know from some feedback that I sometimes elevate things to crisis level when they're not. I'm sorry for that.
"So here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to try to clarify better timelines, come up with more realistic schedules for deliverables, and do a better job stacking projects.
"And I need your help with this. We know this is an area of growth for me.
"If you feel like I am slipping back into forced urgency, then you have my permission to call me out. Maybe not the first time in front of the team, right? I mean, I'm a human also. So you can slip into my office or send me a private message. I promise I won't retaliate. But I give you permission to call it to my attention. And I will be grateful for it and try to learn from it."
This kind of conversation goes so far and means so much. Everybody wants to work for a leader they respect enough to tell the truth.
Retire Superman's cape
After committing to end the crisis culture, the next step is to become better at delegating. I find that many leaders who thrive on urgency addiction also tend to hoard information, because this gives them the ability to save the day with a clutch play.
It's far more productive to empower your team. Effective leaders achieve results through other people. A good manager spends a lot of time thinking about the capacity and the capability on the team. And you invest the time and energy to train your team, clarify expectations with your team, and recognize that you must guide and help everyone to get on the same page.
The best leaders are not the biggest individual contributors. Their job is not to be the genius in the room, but rather the genius maker of others.