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How to Manage Someone Who Thinks Everything Is Urgent

The sky is NOT falling. Yet chances are, you may have a Chicken Little on your team who thinks it is. This is the person who catastrophizes, for whom everything is urgent and requires immediate attention. But when everything is urgent, nothing really is.

It’s likely the Chicken Little on your team doesn’t understand the difference between priority and urgency.

  • Priority is about importance. You can plan around each item’s level of importance to business outcomes and long-term goals.
  • Urgency is about priority with time sensitivity. It causes you to react to the issue, and you are not able to plan for it.

According to researchers from Johns Hopkins University, the “mere urgency effect” can lead people to work on an unimportant chore instead of a more essential one. They do so, not because they have a logical reason—such as judging the task as easier to complete, wanting an immediate reward, or planning to get the chore done before moving on to the more important job—but simply because they feel they must beat an illusionary urgency (even when the task’s duration is shorter than the deadline provided).


Are You Avoiding Chicken Little? Ask These Two Questions.


When I am working with clients and speaking on leadership, I’ll frequently ask these two questions:

  • How often does your Chicken Little approach you with urgent issues that are not actually urgent?
  • How often do you go back and help them understand the difference between priority vs. urgency and coach them to make better judgments in the future?

In most of my audiences, less than 10 percent of leaders conduct the follow-up necessary with their Chicken Little to avoid the fire drills moving forward.

The other 90 percent of leaders or managers generally evade Chicken Little as much as possible, because they want to avoid the burden of yet another superfluous issue.

The risk is that, at some point, Chicken Little will try to raise a flag about a truly urgent issue, and the leader will not give it the credence it deserves. Your Chicken Little will meet with the same demise as another famous fable character, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.”


The Challenge: Helping Your Team Distinguish Between Priority and Urgency

The next time you’re approached with an issue that is not actually urgent, take the time to sit down with your team member. Help them peel it back. Find out:

  • What was it that made them feel you needed to drop everything and deal with it?
  • How can they better assess an issue in the future?

Doing so won’t fix every situation, but the majority of people will learn to recognize the right time and the right level of urgency.

As a result, your confidence in those employees will increase, and in turn, you will want to give them more responsibility.

This can make a profound difference in your ability to make decisions and also positively impact the performance of your team.



Do you need help working through leadership challenges to transform disruption into opportunity? Contact us to learn about Bill’s leadership keynote speakingexecutive coaching, and facilitation services.