A Balance Between Patience and Urgency

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I was reading and listening to his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. In a less famous portion of the speech, King addresses a word I’ve been throwing about a good bit lately: “urgency.”

He was speaking about the time for racial inequality to end. Here’s what he said:

“We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.”

“The fierce urgency of now” is contrasted to “cooling off” or “gradualism.”

As a leader, I know I seek calm and patience in the face of difficulty. I rarely shout. I rarely threaten. I try to start with a benefit of the doubt. Grace under pressure. Support while we correct a path.

But, I’ve been learning, the virtue of patience can turn into a liability if it isn’t laced with some urgency.

The overly patient may fail to decide.

The overly patient may fail to act.

The overly patient can fail to happen to the world.

As leaders, it’s our job to foster communication and analysis in such a way as to lead the team to a consensus of our reality. And, when that reality is filled with threat or loaded with opportunity, we must inspire, cajole, insist on urgent action to meet the issues of the day.

To be urgent all the time might communicate panic or maniacal behavior. To never be urgent is passive and resigned.

In his day, King had an urgent cause. He attacked it courageously. Constantly. Daily. Never panicked. Often scared. Steadfast, nonetheless.

Is there something in your life that requires “urgency”? If so, move ahead.