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It is NOT an Emergency!

It is NOT an Emergency! Renewed Thinking on How We Lead
Posted on May 12th, 2014 | Categories: Authentic Leadership, Uncategorized

By John P. Schreitmueller


“Get everyone together, this is an emergency!”

How many times have your heard this urgent workplace call to action? Too many, I’d be willing to bet. In fact, when asked and when they know no one else is listening, most of the executives and professionals with whom we work admit they are “emergencied out.”

Some perspective… I’m not a war hero. But, many years ago, the Marine Corps entrusted the lives of 43 enlisted Marines to me by giving me command of an infantry rifle platoon overseas. I learned in training and in actual application “emergencies” were about life and death situations. They were not about petty little matters. Men and women who lead or have led others in harm’s way face the potentially most elemental definition of the word emergency. An emergency, ladies and gentlemen, is about someone’s life in jeopardy… or situations that could well place people’s lives in jeopardy. Those are emergencies.

Now, I “get” the pressure and stress of organizational life. I’ve been there too. That is why I refer to myself as a “recovering Type A.” After years leading at the P&L levels and subsequently as a business owner, I fully appreciate the chronic sense of urgency into which we are indoctrinated as our organizational lives move forward. After all, money is at stake, and money is an important topic. Taking action – immediate action – is often the trait that seems to reward us most as the leadership accountabilities pile up. Until we make a major mistake. Or something else intervenes in our life that becomes a catalyst for authentic recalibration.

In this time of organizational incoherence, perhaps the most significant and challenging initiative leaders can take upon themselves is changing how they address the myriad of situations they face each day. Working harder and even longer hours is not the answer. Finding more creative ways to place blame is not the answer. The answer involves renewed thinking, with increased awareness of the impacts we have on others. That means finding out who you really are, and what you are really about… regardless of your age or level of experience.

A measure of emotional maturity is the ability to determine what is an emergency and what is not. The reality of it is this: probably 99.9% of all workplace situations are NOT emergencies. They are NOT about someone living or dying. They are about money, deliverables, egos, office politics and human behavior under stress. When we treat challenging, urgent or difficult business situations as emergencies, we communicate to those who look to us for leadership that an essentially unlimited array of issues, problems or challenges that are not life threatening require us to act as though someone was going to die. I call this penchant Leadership By Emergency. Setting the Leadership By Emergency example means adrenaline and cortisol flow freely among all who have the misfortunes of getting tangled up in our emergency-based world (you, by the way, are already bathed in the stuff by the very nature you are in “emergency” mode). In reality, whether overtly or covertly, we end up punishing others. And, without knowing it, we punish ourselves.

Next time the almost irresistible urge to declare an “emergency” rises within you because some business issue feels uncontrollable or because, deep inside, you are petrified about the potential business or career consequences of some situation:
  • STOP.
  • Take a deep breath. Then take another. And another.
  • Ask yourself: Has someone died, or is someone going to die here?
  • If the answer is yes, call for immediate assistance and take action.
  • If the answer is no, you do NOT have an emergency on your hands. You have a business situation on your hands that requires leadership and calm, coherent handling.
  • Communicate the urgency of the situation to those who are in positions to help solve, correct or eliminate the situation calmly, resolutely and respectfully.
  • Seek counsel from trusted advisers in positions to provide it.
  • Then, whether the situation is resolved in the moment or whether the situation will take time to resolve, congratulate yourself for not expending the emotional energy a true emergency demands, and for providing authentic leadership where others may not have done so.

Remember: an emergency is about life and death. A business situation is about money, deliverables or the coherent handling of something urgent, complex or demanding. The leader who can consistently tell the difference between the two is someone whose example is worth following.


John P. Schreitmueller, PCC, EPC-BC, is CEO of Resolute Consulting Group LLC. His Atlanta-based practice specializes in guiding business owners, executives and professionals who recognize authentic leadership is the key to extraordinary performance.

Copyright 2014 by Resolute Consulting Group LLC.


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