How to cease the sabotage of emergencies and comfort zones

Have you noticed the number of Urgent Care centers popping up around town lately? There are thirty listed in the Kansas City phone directory. Although the first Urgent Care center opened in the 1970s, there numbers have grown widly in the past five years.

The National Center for Health found that 48% of people who went to the Emergency Room did not have real emergencies. They went to the ER because their doctor’s office was not open when they needed care. To ensure proper care for urgent matters and emergencies, patients now have the option of going to an Urgent Care center instead of to the ER. Patients don’t have to treat every health matter as if it were an emergency.

Business professionals don’t have to treat every issue as an emergency either. In fact, doing so can make people look like they are not in control of their work, do not know how to prioritize, and are incapable of making wise decisions. When a manager operates in a state of emergency all the time, it demotivates their teams and causes lack of trust. When everything is an emergency, nothing is.

So, if we are not supposed to make everything an emergency, what’s this sense of urgency people have been talking a lot about?

John Kotter, Professor Emeritus, Harvard Business School, authored a book that has become the definitive source on urgency (A Sense of Urgency). Kotter says urgency is thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. “It is the thought that there is opportunity out there, feelings of determination to win, and behavior that is hyper alert and committed to movement that wins.”

In the interview John Kotter did for Harvard Business Press, he explains more about urgency:

Urgent people:
  • Pay attention. They are alert and proactive.
  • Seek information. They are on the lookout for external information relevant to success.
  • See opportunities. They see opportunities in challenges and crisis.
  • Move forward. They find ways to launch initiatives, form and motivate teams, and make a difference.
The sense of urgency is not created from feelings of contentment, frustration, anxiety, or anger. It is a sense of determination, strong desire to win. Urgent people realize there are obstacles and challenges—they are not ostriches with their heads in the sand—yet, they are positive and energized by opportunities.

People who live in a constant state of emergency or in their comfort zones tend to focus on trivial issues and on projects with no significant contribution to the organization’s strategy. They are not focused intently on progress but on chaos or status quo.

Kotter explains, “People who are determined to move and win, now, simply do not waste time or add stress by engaging in irrelevant activities. True urgency is not the product of historical successes or current failures but the result of people, up and down the hierarchy, who provide the leadership needed to create and re-create this increasingly important asset.”

The assessment below can help you determine whether complacency or a false sense of urgency are issues for you:

Yes or No
1.Are assignments around critical issues regularly not completed on time or with sufficient quality?
2.Are discussions inward-focused and not about markets, emerging technology, competitors, etc.?
3.Are failures of the past discussed so as not to learn from them, but to stall new initiatives?
4.Are highly selective facts used to shoot down data that suggests there is a big hazard or opportunity?
5.Do meetings on key issues end with no decisions about what must happen immediately (except the scheduling of the next meeting)?
6.Do people have trouble scheduling meetings on important initiatives…
7.Because they are too busy?
8.Do people regularly blame others for problems instead of taking responsibility?
9.Do people run from meeting to meeting exhausting themselves and rarely focusing on the most critical hazards or opportunities?
10.Do people say, “we must act now”, but then don’t act?
11.Do people spend long hours developing power points on almost anything?
12.Is candor lacking in confronting bureaucracy and politics that are slowing things down?

Consider the following nine actions to prevent emergency states or comfort zones from sabotaging your work going forward:
  1. Set reasonable deadlines, keep track of them, and honor the commitments.
  2. Listen to what external resources like customers, new staff members, partners, and suppliers are saying. Understand the truth and anticipate needs.
  3. Listen to external data, in addition to the people.
  4. Identify the opportunities in every challenge and crisis.
  5. Behave urgently daily. Urgency can be developed but if it’s not used all the time, it will diminish. If you only operate urgently every few months, that’s like the college student who crammed for final exams.
  6. Watch out for the No-Nos. The No-Nos kill urgency. They say they are too busy, and they often stretch work out beyond reasonable limits.
  7. Encourage risk by not punishing failure. Fear of failure leads to complacency.
  8. Pursue winning relentlessly. Not to sound like Charlie Sheen, but prioritize actions based on their preparation for victory.
  9. Sustain the sense of urgency with courage. You’ll need courage to ask questions, nudge others forward, and lead the impending changes.
Kotter goes on to say why companies need more urgency, “A real sense of urgency is rare, much rarer than most people seem to think. Yet it is invaluable in a world that will not stand still.”

Are your industry and customers standing still? You cannot afford to function in a state of emergency or in long-held comfort zones. The sense of urgency will propel your organization past this current financial state when you’re all functioning with the same sense.

Are you the Red Flag teammate?

In the video linked below, Peter Bregman (CEO of a global management consulting firm which advises CEOs and their leadership teams) shares a story about consulting with a company whose staff put a red flag outside the CEO’s office to warn people against going in to his office. He says everyone knew the CEO was difficult, but the CEO didn’t know his reputation was so damaged until Bregman explained the red flag hanging outside his office.

(Click the picture or use the link to watch the six-minute video

Why is it bad to be the red flag person?
  1. You might not get to use the full power of your brain or experience if people don’t want you on their teams.
  2. Red flag people cause others to waste time and energy trying to accommodate them or fix their issues.
  3. It can be lonely when no one wants to be around you.
  4. Being a downer might go against your personal mission or goals.
  5. You might get stuck in a spot along your career journey where you don’t want to stay.
  6. It is exhausting to be so negative.
As Bregman says, “When we are not aware of the feelings, they take us with them.”
We have feelings all day long without thinking about them, and when we don’t pay attention to them, the feelings can cause us to become a negative force in the office. They can cause us to become the Red Flag people.
    While I do not want anyone reading this to be a Red Flag person, I also do not want you to repress your feelings. Some “gurus” tell us not to take things personally or to leave our feelings at the door as we arrive at work. But, I don’t think that helps either.
I’ve written and spoken extensively outside the Institute about being all in. Living and leading all in means you bring your brain, heart, hands, eyes, and everything about yourself to your life. That includes work. So, contrary to some popular “gurus,” I do think we should take things personally. Our work is personal, and our company does better when people have strong feelings about it. However, we can control how we behave in response to our feelings so we don’t become the Red Flag people.

The following tips can help you avoid becoming the Red Flag person on your team:
  1. Slow down, breath, pause and get used to your feelings. Understanding your feelings can help you deliberately adapt your behavior. Don’t repress your feelings; identify them.
  2. Decide how you need to act to maintain your professional relationships and reputation. You don’t have to address the feelings right away, but you do have to choose your behavior. Unlike a three-year old whose tantrums are cute to onlookers, we can control our behavior.
  3. Refrain from over-sharing feelings, especially regarding personal matters that will be highly scrutinized.
  4. Use support resources like your workplace friends, manager, coach, or EAP.
  5. Honor personal boundaries—your own and others’. Certain topics are not ideal for the workplace and could make colleagues uncomfortable, so be aware of others’ personal boundaries.
  6. If you can’t focus, take time off. The best professionals know when they need to take themselves out of the game to recuperate.
  7. Respect your colleagues’ time. Your best friends at work have their own work to complete each day, and they have their own personal issues to manage.
  8. Respect your job, team, and the Institute by doing great work. If you’ve decided you can show up for work, then be a stellar teammate while you are here.
  9. Once the situation improves, thank the people who supported you through it.
These nine tips can help you understand and respond to your feelings without repressing them or letting them steer you toward becoming the Red Flag teammate.

Do you have a perception problem?

Yesterday afternoon I met a friend for coffee. We had not seen each other since May, so we enjoyed catching up for a while. At one point, I was telling her about an upcoming activity with some high school students, and she encouraged me to show a lot of confidence when interacting with kids that age. Another time in the conversation, I mentioned the first year with MRIGlobal flew by yet I feel so new, and she again urged me about confidence. After her second mention of it, I began to wonder if I come across to her, or in general, as if I don’t have confidence.

So, now I’m paranoid and lacking confidence!

The conversation prompted me to dig a little about perceptions. How do our impressions of others impact our behaviors? How do our perceptions of ourselves impact our performance? If anyone reading this has a perception problem, what I learned and pondered might help you too.

The psychology gurus are pretty set on the definition of perception: it is the process by which we translate our environment into our view of the world. Of course, our view affects our behaviors and behaviors lead to success or failure with work and people.

Take a look at the photo to the left. How old is the woman you see? The way you see the woman will impact how you treat her, if she were a real person in front of you. Or, perhaps you see something else entirely?

A colleague told me a story recently. The story was about selling shoes in India. As the story goes, an Indian leader wanted to set up a shoe business in a specific region, so he sent an ambassador there to do some recon work. The elder ambassador spent little time in the region and told the leader that selling shoes in that region would be a waste of time because the people don’t even wear shoes.

In the meantime, an enterprising young man met the leader. The young man was eager to prove himself worthy of a position with the leader, so he offered to go to the same region to assess the shoe business potential. He spent time in the region, interacted with the people, noted their interests and needs. When he returned to the leader, he was excited about the potential shoe business. There was great potential because the people don’t wear shoes! Turns out, the young man was right and the shoe business prospered.

Perception affects behavior, and behavior affects success with work and people. Watch out for three common perception problems to make sure you see things as they are and act accordingly.

Self-fulfilling prophecy: Believing something is true causes it to come true. The best example I can think of for this is “parking karma.” I believe in such karma and it almost always works for me. When people in the car doubt or make fun of it, it always works. Right when a passenger laughs off my parking prayer (“Hail Mary full of grace, help me find a parking space”), someone pulls out of the front spot. Another common example is when searching for a lost item. It is better to say, “I will remember to print the report” instead of “I hope I don’t forget to print the report.”

I read a statistic a long time ago that said 70%-90% of what we say to ourselves is negative. Pay attention to how you talk to, and about, yourself to see if that number could be taken down a notch or two.


Self-sabotage: Self-sabotage goes deeper than self-talk. Sometimes people procrastinate or do mediocre work as a way to sabotage themselves. A technique that helps self-sabotagers is Stop-Challenge-Focus. (SOURCE: Turn Self-Sabotage Into Success By Geoffrey James on
When you avoid taking an action that would help you reach your goals, use the three steps:
1.       STOP. Identify the belief that's causing you to feel emotions that aren't helping you succeed.

2.       CHALLENGE. Question the validity of that belief and find reasons why it's not really true or not true in this case.

3.       FOCUS. Create a specific inner dialog that supports your goals and then take action immediately.

Fundamental attribution error: This is when we give positive explanations for our results and negative ones for others. For example, I got the “A” on the exam because I studied hard, while Joey got the “A” because he was lucky. At work, this might relate to positions, promotions, evaluations, or project assignments. A flawed sense of oneself leads to career stagnation or failure. It is difficult for others to give feedback when our vision of ourselves differs from how others view us, so watch for it yourself.

One of the great philosophers of our day, Stephen Colbert summed this issue up nicely, “It used to be, everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that's not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything.”

Whether we are with friends, colleagues, or customers, perception is everything. Remember, that includes your perception of others and of yourself, not just their perception of you.