A Leader’s Guide to Practicing Patience

Frustration happens. Ask any leader feeling the pressure of increasing goals and expectations. It seems everyone wants everything faster. But what I have seen distinguish extraordinary leaders from their broken or burned-out peers is patience; practicing patience separates strong leaders from weak leaders.

Patience has been defined as the ability to endure difficulties in the face of delay without responding in annoyance or anger; it’s the level of endurance a leader can have before negativity. Patience in leadership is the combination of understanding that many things take time and the willingness (and ability) to allow that to play out.

In this fast-paced culture, patience is often perceived as an inability to act. This stems from the incorrect assumptions that:

  1. All direction is immediately evident, or
  2. All choices are obvious or
  3. No deadline ever dare be missed.

Seasoned leaders know better. When a leader takes time to choose a direction it isn’t always because of insecurity or the inability to grasp the specifics. Getting to the bottom of things often takes great effort and time to assure the most effective decisions can be made. Accounting for past lessons learned is also a significant process. Many corporate directions have failed because plans were rushed.

Another incorrect view of patience is common with that of other “soft” skills; they are associated with leadership weakness. Leadership expert Ritch Eich describes in Industry Week how patience is lumped into the same category as empathy, approachability, listening and transparency. The old-school mindset leads from intimidation, ego and control with little to no consideration of employee needs. In subservient cultures under old-school leaders, workers have little say and few options.

The great leaders I have worked with recognize that employees don’t put up with this. Talented people are hard to find, and retention is key for success. The old leadership mindset requires an entire paradigm shift; respect and support of employees is critical. Soft skills, including patience, are now employed by the best leaders to engage and inspire employees. They know productivity is vitally dependent on employee satisfaction. People on the receiving end of impatience won’t take long to dislike their jobs and find a better one somewhere else. Leaders who have patience are among those who forge the strongest teams and succeed from that strength.

I have also noticed that impatient leaders see a need to keep the pace of progress hot; they make rapid decisions in order to obtain rapid results. In reality, haste generally raises the likelihood of mistakes and oversights. This can cause major delays when work needs to be redone or cleaned-up. Paradoxically, slowing things down can speed productivity. A leader’s patience in getting things right offers an effective use of time and talent.

What do you think? What has been your experience with patience (or impatience) in leadership? I’d love to hear from you. You can call me at 704-827-4474; let’s talk. And as always, I can be reached here or on LinkedIn.

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