John Kotter, author of A Sense Of Urgency and a professor at Harvard Business School. He is considered by many to be an authority on leadership and change. Those words are not spoken often in the context of the business of law, so it is not surprising that Kotter’s recent interview on the topic of leadership and change is in Inc. rather than a legal publication. But as a believer that what is good for business is good for legal business too, I wanted to draw attention to Kotter’s discussion of urgency.
From the introduction to the interview:
Kotter believes there are two kinds of urgency — and, like cholesterol, one is good and one is bad. The good kind is characterized by constant scrutiny of external promise and peril. It involves relentless focus on doing only those things that move the business forward in the marketplace and on doing them right now, if not sooner. The bad kind — to which many companies have recently succumbed — is panic driven and characterized by breathless activity that winds up producing nothing demonstrably new.
Kotter advises leaders to stamp out the bad urgency, which demoralizes and drains people, and use the — dare we say it? — opportunity of the economic crisis to remake their organizations with a lean and hungry look. And he encourages them to sustain that newfound urgency even when flush times return.
Kotter does not believe that actions of most business since the recession hit are positive:
Many companies probably think they’re responding with urgency, and there are certainly a lot of people running around trying to come up with solutions. But most of that activity is going to be ineffectual, because it is driven by a fear of losing. It’s not that gut-level determination to win and to make absolutely sure that they do something every single day to keep pushing that goal forward. That’s true urgency.
The "frenetic activity" that seems to abound in large law firms these days (at the management level alas) is a sign of "false urgency." With "true urgency," one expects to see change.
It is a most interesting interview, including Kotter’s explanation for why, if the Klingons were attacking, he’d want Kirk in command, not Spock. My take from it is that Kotter would not applaud the "leadership" coming from most law firms these days.