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“No rush” is no help

Do you shy away from giving deadlines when delegating?

Do you say ‘there’s no rush’ in an attempt to be a ‘good boss’ and not put undue pressure on your team?

But what if this was putting undue pressure on other people and adding to your own stress levels?


Several years ago, I sent an email to somebody in my team asking them to do something for me. It was an important task, but it certainly wasn’t urgent, so I added what I now realize was a typical sentence in my emails.

‘There’s no rush to get back to me.’

The response from my colleague was surprising, relatively direct and, incredibly helpful.

They asked me to provide them with a deadline so that they could prioritise this task in the context of all of their other work.

What we say and what we mean

So, what does ‘no rush’ or ‘no hurry’ actually mean?

And why, as leaders, do some of us use the phrase?

What we mean and the message the other person receives can be two very different things.

The phrase “there’s no rush” means that we are telling the other person
• the work is not urgent,
• they do not need to hurry, and
• they can “take their time.”

But what it doesn’t tell them is how much time they can take.

And even though we haven’t shared a timeframe with them, we will almost certainly have one in mind.

And this is where problems start to arise. When that time arrives, we start chasing them for the thing we asked for, an update or progress report.

What’s the impact?

The person on the receiving end may then feel defensive about being chased, like they are being micro-managed, that they’ve let us down, or stressed because they’ve suddenly got multiple tasks to complete that are all urgent.

And as a leader, we are responsible for that.

So, what stops us from assigning deadlines?

In many cases, I believe the thing that gets in the way is a desire to be liked and to be a supportive leader who doesn’t create unnecessary pressure.

While we’ve all heard the phrase ‘leaders need to be respected, not liked,’ there is a deep-seated human trait in many of us that means we do want to be liked.
In fact, one of the most common fears that humans have is being abandoned, and the modern-day interpretation of this is being liked.

As leaders, we work hard on building relationships, trying to be a good listener, trying to be understanding and empathetic — all in the hope that those we lead will like and willingly follow us.

But failing to provide deadlines creates a lot of pressure and stress. It generates the very thing we’re trying to protect our team from.

If we continue to avoid giving deadlines, it will gradually erode the degree to which they trust us and how competent we appear.

It’s not that they will necessarily view us as dishonest, but they will have a belief – borne out of their experience – that there is a deadline that we haven’t shared.

What’s the solution?

The solution is actually very straightforward.

Firstly, set a realistic and specific deadline based on when the task absolutely must be delivered by.

Avoid arbitrary deadlines such as ‘the end of the week’ if that’s not when you actually need it by. There is little that’s more frustrating than being asked to get something to your boss by ‘first thing Monday morning’ and knowing that they haven’t looked at it all week!

And don’t set vague deadlines such as “close of play today,” as that will mean very different things to different people. For example, “close of play” means 5:30 pm for some people. For others, it means 10 pm, and believe it or not, some people will view this as first thing tomorrow morning.

The second part of the solution is to ask if the deadline is achievable based on all of their other tasks. This is how we can demonstrate our empathy and be the supportive leader we aspire to be.

And if they feel as though the deadline isn’t achievable, we can have a conversation with them to find one that is, or help them to re-prioritise their other tasks.

So, what about you?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experience in the comments below.

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