The stakes aren’t as high as you think

We all think the stakes are high. Our culture is sensationalistic. Everything is either the best or worst thing ever. Things have to happen now or they’re meaningless.

It gets exhausting.

If we’re not careful, extreme stakes can inspire horrible decisions. Think of the Volkswagen emissions scandal. For whatever reason, folks thought the stakes were too high. They couldn’t admit their cars violated emissions regulations and go through a redesign. They had to cheat the system and try to hide the problem.

There’s a great chance no one involved in that scandal is “evil”. They’re probably good people that made bad decisions when they sensed more pressure than actually existed.

Sure, your boss gets mad when deadlines are missed or budgets are exceeded. We both get that. But it’s not a reason to cut ethical corners with anything you do.

As you move closer to the front lines of the business, you will increasingly find stakeholders outside of the business: customers, vendors, investors, et cetera. It’s even easier to assume the stakes are falsely high with these stakeholders, since you don’t get to see them every day, and they don’t know all the details of your work.

Almost nothing is as important or urgent as it seems. There are important and urgent tasks, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that the way people communicate often exaggerates the importance and urgency. Pushed to an extreme, exaggerated importance and urgency can incite panic and poor decision-making.

As you navigate turbulent career waters, keep a level-head. Don’t let the quality of your work needlessly suffer as you field breathless requests from new stakeholders. Don’t compromise your integrity, or your broader character, to meet requests that are almost never as important or urgent as they seem.

At the same time, don’t be dismissive. Important and urgent items will find their way to you. Respond accordingly. But maintain your perspective. Your integrity depends on it.

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