Bill Hybels has added much insight into leadership for secular as well as faith-based organizations. He is the author of many books but one of my favorites is Axiom: Powerful Leadership Proverbs.
As I reread this book at lunch, I was struck by a phrase he used about a meeting with an employee about a serious behavioral problem. The need was urgent, the consequences dire and there was no room for misunderstanding. Bill explained that in a situation like this, he would say, “This is your 911 call.”
I like the imagery. As leaders, we need to know when a conversation (or a meeting or an event) is in the 911 category. An understated 911 conversation can have disastrous outcomes. No effective leader can afford to be less than crystal clear in 911 situations about what needs to happen, when and the consequences of action or lack of it.
There is, however, the danger of overstating a situation and making it appear to be a 911 when it really isn’t. Some ineffective leaders assign a sense of false urgency or importance in an attempt to make sure that something gets done, but they mortgage their credibility like the little boy who cried wolf.
Two important insights to remember: First, be certain a situation really is a 911 call before you make it seem as such. Second, be absolutely clear about the situation and what must happen to avoid catastrophe.