When Little Pebbles Cover Big Rocks

Attending to what is urgent before what is important is the biggest and most dangerous vicious spiral in the organization today.  It leads to goals that are unmet or have slipped past their deadline. It causes a lack of focus for the organization as people begin to question what the real priorities are for the company. And ultimately, the success of the organization is held back and performance is limited because employees are focused on putting out fires and not preparing for the future because the future is so unclear.  Meanwhile, changes are taking place externally in the market that are missed, providing competitors with an advantage.So what are the important things a leader should be focused on? And when the urgent hits you in the face, which it does to us all, what process do you have to quickly get back to the important items, which will make the difference between your company surviving and thriving?  In a recent article, Beth Armknecht Miller, Founder and President of Executive Velocity in Atlanta, addressed the subject:

A leader’s ultimate job is to meet or surpass his or her goals and move the organization forward towards its long-term vision. So the important things are those projects, decisions, meetings, employees, and external influences that will impact a company in getting that done.  But urgencies are unavoidable: an employee crisis, a problem with a delivery, reports not meeting their commitments, unforeseen (or foreseen) natural disasters, and the list goes on and on.   Successful executives that are effective with these dilemmas have three key tools: delegation, time management, and emotional intelligence.

DELEGATION:  Effectively delegating urgent issues requires a level of trust that the person being delegated to, can be trusted to perform in a timely manner and has the necessary skills to deliver quality work. If you find yourself consistently taking on specific urgent issues, for example customer issues, then this probably means you either don’t have the right person managing customer relationships or you need to develop the person so that you can offload more customer issues. Or, it may be that you have trouble letting go of control. It this is the case, ask yourself “How will I be able to grow the business if I continue to fear letting go of the comfortable and non risky tasks?”

TIME MANAGEMENT:  How you manage your time is the next critical skill to stay out of the trap of being stuck in the urgent. We all know about the “big rocks”.  When you keep tackling the small things, the sand and pebbles, and not the important strategic items, then your pot will be full of sand and pebbles with no way of inserting a big rock. The urgent really aren’t the rocks; they are like pebbles, which get caught in a bicycle’s gears, which can derail a company. As a leader-manager your time should first be focused on the big rocks, and when the pebbles pop up and try to derail you spend time to reprioritize so that you can get quickly back on track to address your big rocks.

EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE:  And finally, having the skill to manage your emotions in times of urgency — to avoid overreaction or underreaction — is critical to leadership success. Many leaders forget that they are “on stage”. Their employees are always looking to them for emotional and behavioral cues. So when something or someone becomes that pebble, you need to kick up your level of emotional intelligence. Step back and think before you react.




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