Leaders And Urgency Addiction: A Love Story

By Gail Angelo

Do short deadlines and fast-paced environments give you an adrenaline rush?
Chances are you’re an urgency addict.

Long-term states of heightened adrenaline, however, take their toll on overall health. People who overwork themselves have an increased sense of anxiety, rarely feel rested, are often impatient and are generally less effective workers. Responsibilities start to fall through the cracks.

Most importantly, urgency addiction takes its toll on relationships because it is distracting. The ability to be present and engage with teams, customers, colleagues, and even family and friends diminishes.

To shift yourself out of an urgency mindset, you need to focus less on being the best at something and learn to focus on being the best to someone.

Recently, I had the opportunity to coach John, a senior level executive of a multi-million dollar organization. John was suffering from urgency addiction. One clear indicator was his recent physical. The results were not glowing. He was worn out, less than fully engaged and had this nagging feeling that something was missing. Leading just wasn’t fun anymore.

After conducting an initial session and 360 degree feedback process, it was clear that John’s zest for life and leadership had waned. He felt like he was dealing with one crisis after another and his days were an endless stream of meetings. It was difficult to find white space in his calendar. In his mind, everything was urgent.

John began the coaching process reflecting on two questions:

1. What is the story you hear yourself telling most often about your life?

2. What is the story you want to be telling?

John heard himself saying that he was stuck in doing and not leading. He was not aligned with his values around leadership and relationships. He missed feeling more deeply connected to his teams and his family as well as to the underlying purpose of his work.

John used the following strategies to move himself out of urgency addiction and into purposeful leading:

1. Pay attention to intention

John took time to explore what gave his leadership and his life purpose and meaning. He clarified his purpose, core values and strengths. He asked himself and others how these elements were manifested in his leadership. He then made changes accordingly.

2. Create space for:


John started setting aside 15 minutes a day for reflection, increasing it over time to 30 minutes. Reflection provides the opportunity to understand how the events of our lives shape our future and impact others. It supports our quest for discovering purpose and meaning. Reflection moves us from the mental model of being right and smart to leading with purpose and wisdom.


Addiction to urgency can leave us in a state of stress. When we’re stressed, it’s important to take care of ourselves so that we can make clear-headed decisions. John became more aware of what he ate. He hired a personal trainer. He ensured he was getting 7-8 hours of sleep most nights. As importantly, he began to think about things he used to love to do. He started incorporating more of those things into his daily life. Sometimes it was just a simple, leisurely cup of coffee with his wife or a trip to the beach to relax and recharge.

Strengthen relationships

Focusing on others without distraction helps strengthen trusted relationships. John came to realize just how often he was in conversations waiting to respond versus listening to understand. When he was more present in his interactions with people, the quality of those interactions and relationships grew.

3. Delegate for better team engagement

The engine of team engagement is a clear purpose, a feedback mechanism and the opportunity to build on strengths. John was a micro-manager. His leadership team felt both deflated and defeated. He re-assessed how he was delegating, then shifted his focus to delegate artfully based on individual and team strengths. He thought about opportunities for individual and team growth and exposure. These steps resulted in a stronger, more engaged team and greater capacity for him to lead more effectively.

4. Breathe

When everything feels urgent, we are engaging an aspect of the brain that triggers our fight-or-flight response. Studies show that focusing on our breath results in a physiological relaxation response to the body and clearing of the mind, leaving us free to make clear decisions. John began to practice breathing at various times throughout the day with a marked difference on how much more energized and relaxed he felt.

5. Enlist an accountability partner

In this case John enlisted one of his trusted advisors. He was transparent in what he was doing, where he was struggling, and the type of support that was helpful.

The transformation for John and his leadership team was remarkable. The team gained a legitimate voice in the long-term direction and strategy of the organization. There’s been a surge of creativity and innovation on the team. John is more fulfilled as he learned how to cope with his urgency addiction and a better leader to his team. He is living into the story he wants to tell.

Gail Angelo is a leader of leaders: equipped with an extraordinarily intuitive, yet practical approach that enables those she works with to move from wishing and hoping to doing and attaining - from boring to bold - Gail empowers her clients to act as the owners of their leadership goals. Her experience and powers of perception allow her to help executives identify their true strengths, eliminate negativity and create strategies with clear action steps that lead to success and fulfillment for her clients.