When communicating urgency does not help

Posted by Dermot Crowley on 23rd November 2020

One of my colleagues in the training industry is Chris Meredith. Chris helps people to create, capture and communicate great ideas. When I was writing Urgent!, he shared a story with me about communicating urgency that I thought was worth sharing with you.

I was once teaching a friend to skipper a yacht. We were in shallow water on a falling tide and there was a risk of us running aground as we sailed towards an anchorage.

The trainee skipper asked a crew-member to help out by reading out the soundings from the depth gauge so that he could concentrate on steering. It looked like a great piece of delegation, but it had an unintended consequence. 

Because the depths were being read out aloud, all of the other crew members were able to hear it as well.  Bit by bit, they each stopped what they were doing and crowded round the depth gauge – obsessed with the changing numbers. 

It meant that the skipper had put the yacht at risk because the crew were needed elsewhere, ready to react if we did indeed hit ground. 

I told the skipper to stop having the information read aloud and instead monitor the depth himself. Meanwhile, the other crew members were sent back to their posts. 

Soon, the boat was back to normal and the crew were working efficiently again. (And you’ll be glad to hear, we didn’t run aground). 

This is a great example of a leader absorbing urgency for the good of the team, not just transferring it to them in a way that disturbs or distracts. As leaders, we have a responsibility to use urgency with purpose, and sometimes it does not serve to communicate the urgency. Of course, sometimes it does. You need to read the situation and make a call about the best course of action.

Don’t let your team run aground because you allowed urgency to distract them from their job.

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