What’s at Stake? Missing my deadline. I really dislike missing deadlines. In this very moment, I openly confess to having writer’s block and the deadline is looming. I’m stuck! I want and look for inspiration. So, I seek refuge in a place proven to bridge me to inspiration; a coffee shop and for today, a cup of Orange Spice tea.

I sit with my hands poised on the keyboard, confession released. I feel better. I turn my attention to my environment. Perhaps there is inspiration there? That’s when an animated conversation, right next to me, catches my attention. There is a heightened sense of energy. Voices are elevated and excited, yet surprisingly grounded. I am the unwitting witness to a budding business relationship. I hear phrases such as “I love…” and “Doing what I want” and “Build this project” and “…massive market opportunity”.

Chancing a glance, I see smiles, bright eyes and straight postures. I hear: “What’s more exciting than planning your own future.” Yes, indeed! It’s expressed as a statement, not a question. I hear a voice speaking with focused determination to mobilize a brighter future.

I hear an urgent quality in the conversation that is grounded and active. I realize that this dialogue, hard for me not to hear, epitomizes a concept I had struggled to explain and now witness in real time. The concept of urgency. Aptly said by John Kotter: “A higher rate of urgency does not imply ever-present panic, anxiety, or fear. It means a state in which complacency is virtually absent.”

In this snapshot in time, the people next to me openly discuss opportunities and challenges with what feels like true urgency. There is an active leaning forward, energetically and physically, in which complacency does not live.

The inspiration I feel is for the change leaders sitting next to me. I siliently ask them: What’s at Stake for you?   Almost on cue, their conversation continues in answer to my silent question. The narrative I hear is a rigourous meeting of challenges and opportunities. There’s a positive infectious energy for tackling important issues and realizing exciting possibilities. Underneath the business language, lives a heartfelt energy that inspires, virtually absent of complacency.

Complacency is in itself a hazard. Why? Being content and allowing attention to shift away from opportunities or risks could lead to becoming a hostage to certainty. A true sense of urgency is a fundamental attitude and behaviour for change leadership, and “What’s at Stake?” is a provocative question to pose.

What is a “stake” anyway? I wonder. So, I look it up. In its most literal meaning, a stake is a “piece of wood or metal driven into the ground to support or act as a boundary”. More informally, stakes are what gamblers use to hedge their bets, and individuals and teams lean on to support and defend their position and strategy.

The key shift in meaning is when we add the words “at” and “stake” together. That’s when the energy behind the meaning is pumped to a higher level.

Go ahead, pose the question to yourself. “What’s At Stake?” Notice the emotion that rises within. Now, put it into context. Notice the shift in your thoughts and feelings, especially when the circumstances are related to a major shift in focus towards something scary and exciting at the same time. It raises the stakes on “What’s At Stake?”!

In high-performing teams and organizations, high stakes met with a true sense of urgency are seen in leaders and teams who work with a purpose and cause. They are driven by what’s going well and what else can thrive, with an active eye on potential risks and pitfalls.

John Kotter, author of “A Sense of Urgency” says: “Urgent behavior is not driven by a belief that all is well, or that everything is a mess but instead, that the world contains great opportunities and great hazards. Even more so, urgent action is not created by feelings of contentment, anxiety, frustration, or anger, but by a gut-level determination to move and win, now.”

The empowerment in true urgency is the engagement of people and resources to pursue ripe opportunities, to answer a wake up call. Equally crucial is staying alert and proactive to various potential hazards. The mobility that comes with true urgency drives and inspires with an infectious and positive energy that eliminates the chance for complacency.

In witness to the animated conversation next to me, I feel a deeper understanding of the importance of being alert and focused, receptive and responsive. Receptive to facing challenges and responsive to the opportunities around me, a true sense of urgency.

As I now reflect on my writer’s block, which is now absent, I learn a mini-lesson. By letting go of the inward cycle of ‘being stuck in writer’s block’, I shifted focus from heaviness to lightness, from inability to capability, from being stuck to ease. My reward? Inspiration and a story to tell.



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