In his highly regarded book Leading Change, John Kotter articulates that establishing urgency must always precede communicating vision. Before attempting to implement change, leaders must create dissatisfaction with an ineffective status quo. They must help others develop a sense of angst over the brokenness around them. Without urgency, a vision will not take root in the culture. Specifically, here are three reasons urgency must precede vision:
Without urgency, attention is never garnered. With all the noise competing for mind space and eyeballs in the people a leader serves, it takes a sense of urgency to create discomfort with the current reality. Without urgency people won’t consider a new direction. When leaders fail to create urgency, the vision they articulate will be met with apathy.
It takes a community of leaders to communicate and execute a new direction. When urgency is established first, others are attracted to solving the problem. Without establishing urgency, you miss the opportunity to attract the right people—the people who also share a burden for change and angst to solve the problems that need to be solved.
Without a sense of urgency, people do not understand the why beneath a new direction. Sure, good folks can mindlessly execute the direction of their leaders or supervisors, but it takes urgency to grab the heart. When a group of people has their hearts collectively convinced that “this must change,” a powerful team that is intrinsically motivated is formed.
Nehemiah provides us a great example. He heard a negative report from Jerusalem about the broken wall, the ruin of God’s people, and the disgrace of his home. It crushed him to the point of weeping, fasting, and prayer (Nehemiah 1:3-4). Sadly, the horrible situation in Jerusalem had become the status quo. The disgrace did not bother the people in the same way that it frustrated Nehemiah. After he arrived in Jerusalem, he walked around and observed the destruction. Before he launched the vision of rebuilding the wall, Nehemiah pointed out to the people that they were in trouble and ruins. He started with urgency, not vision. Nehemiah grabbed attention by pointing to the brokenness. He attracted others to solve the problem by helping them see the disgrace God’s people were in. And Nehemiah utilized the broken walls to provide motivation for the building project: “Let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.”
By creating urgency, leaders garner attention for a vision, attract the right players, and provide necessary motivation for the hard work of implementation.