Leadership Lounge – “A Sense of Urgency” – Kotter

Leadership Lounge – “A Sense of Urgency” – Kotter

The “Leadership Lounge” is an initiative from our International Leadership Academy to provide opportunities to read and discuss interesting leadership and /or education texts in an informal environment.

It’s an early evening off site social event, for colleagues to meet and share experiences and thoughts across our school in a friendly and, hopefully, engaging manner. That doesn’t mean to say that it won’t get “tasty” on occasions, I’m sure!

Choosing when to invest the time in reading certain books, in my opinion, is probably as important as the books you actually do choose to read. Such choices help structure strategic thinking.

I guess the counter point is equally true, they may also have the potential to shackle, but in the ever proliferating market of leadership gurudom, navigating and making choices is a job in itself. The Leadership Lounge also has this function.

Anyway, I’ve volunteered to lead the second of these evenings and thought I’d offer a little prep for attendees and open up a response forum (also for others who have read the book but can’t attend).

Kotter was a deliberate choice for time, place and context.

I first wrote about A Sense of Urgency in 2012 here Leading Reading. It is a more detailed examination of  step 1 from the famous 8 steps of Kotter’s Leading Change:

Still a go to framework for leaders of all teams

I returned to A Sense of Urgency when beginning my role as CEO/Principal at The British School in the Netherlands in 2015. The books we go back to are clearly the ones that have made an impact.

Still bristling with 2012 tabs

How do we encourage our teams to see the urgency for change when things appear to be going just fine? For example at The BSN, and on the back of an excellent ISI report in October 2015, how did we guard against the dangers of complacency and continue with a relentless focus on quality – ensuring even better learning opportunities for our children and young people? In a large organisation such as The BSN (2350 students across 4 campuses and over 500 staff) – what were the mechanisms available to sustain the call to action?

This 4 min YouTube clip is another approach to summary!

Kotter provides practical advice taken from numerous case studies and professional research.

Three key questions in preparation for the reading:

1: What is the difference between a sense of urgency and a false sense of urgency?

2: What examples have you seen of the four tactics of creating a sense of urgency (below)? Did they work? Why / why not?

The four tactics:

  • Bringing the outside in
  • Behaving with urgency every day
  • Finding opportunity in crisis
  • Dealing with the NoNos (

3: Are business models and examples always relevant to education? Are they universally welcomed in the educational world?

The live session on Monday 16th October is also an ideal opportunity for me to hear information and perceptions about the school’s ambitions for its community. We have a cross section of colleagues attending from all campuses and within teaching and support roles to share their experience of our journey so far. Too much too soon? Not urgent enough? Who decides?

A piece of advice I’d give to those interested in the answers to these questions is to look at leaders’ previous organisations five years after they’ve left. We will all move on at some point. Are those schools still flourishing?

Finally, keep reminding yourself and others of why the urgency matters. Leadership is never really about you; some leaders can go wrong here right at the start. In education it’s about children and young people and what’s right for them. Keep bringing your thinking back to that and you’ll find the spur to urgency.

Do sign up to Disqus below – I’d love to know your thoughts about the text, your answers to the questions and / or any other recommendations.

  • Kieran Earley

    Do add your comments here!

  • Liz

    Thanks Kieran for a fab session last night; am looking forward to continuing the conversation. One of the four tactics was to bring the outside in; this is really important for professional learning when we look at the use of the external to challenge orthodoxies and clarify thinking. I was also interested in your comments about bringing the inside out. What core strategies/approaches can help in bringing the internal expertise out for the benefit of the school as well as the wider education community?

    • Thanks, Liz! It’s amazing what we don’t know about colleagues’ expertise and experience. Finding the time to mine it and share it is a challenge.

      Your immediate response here is a great example. Social Media and blog posts and comments can help extend and open up the conversation. But not everyone will feel confident doing this! Also public forums aren’t always appropriate and we have to make a judgement call on that.

      I guess that culturally we all have a responsibility to open up, prepare to be challenged and to explain our thinking.

      Listening and preparation for robust conversation are key. We should all be prepared to justify our decisions!