There is little doubt that leading organizations today is as difficult as ever. The demands of this omnichannel, globalized, ADD-oriented retail industry along with the “extreme” future of  supreme inter-connectivity, exponential change and lightening quick responses (not to mention the tectonic technology shifts and the elevated demands of today’s consumer), places undue demands on leaders and their teams around the world.

Things and minds change in a blink of an eye or faster and there is little doubt that a premium is placed on a constant state of urgency that needs to permeate an entire organization from head to toe. Mickey Drexler, my fabled former boss at Gap, Inc. used to preach to everyone “think minus 5”. Even if we were running positive double digit comparable store sales (or “comps” as they were called), he wanted to ensure the organization would never get complacent or satisfied. He wanted to make sure we were always on our toes, wary for the next dip or the next crisis in consumer confidence and like the Boy Scouts, to always “be prepared”.

As a hockey coach, I was like that too. I felt that a healthy amount of paranoia was part of the secret to a winning formula. Never take any lead for granted (positive comps). Always respect the opponent (the consumer). Play hard right to the final whistle (keep your doors open to catch that final sale). They say the worst lead in hockey is a three goal lead. All coaches everywhere are paranoid.

However, as critical as urgency is today,  without empathy, urgency alone will not accomplish the aggressive goals of your organization. Leaders today must possess a healthy understanding of cause and effect. Whatever actions that are taken need to be scrutinized in order to plan for any fall-out (emotional or otherwise) or negative consequences that could ultimately hurt your mission. I have seen it in action and it is not pretty and is usually harmful to the organization and the credibility of the leadership.

Having managed or been party to several of these urgent cultures with aggressive agendas, it is critical to understand the impact of decisions on the business but most importantly on the people throughout the organization at all levels. Usually, leaders either have a feel for it or they don’t. If they don’t then it is incumbent upon the leader to be self-aware enough to ensure then they have someone on their leadership team they trust (generally the Chief People Officer) that has the ability to sense these things. This does not mean that those tough decisions are not made and are the right courses of action, but there are several ways to implement those decisions to make it smoother and more understandable for everyone to comprehend.

It is incumbent upon all leaders, in this time of great tumult and ambiguity, to understand the impacts of their actions and ensure that empathy as a qualification is at the top of the list for anyone being asked to make these major decisions.

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