David Wray

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Patience, a Career Making Leadership Skill!

Patience is a virtue. Mimi and Eunice cartoon by Nina Paley

The foundation of patience

Patience is captured well in the 16th century saying first coined by John Heywood “Haste maketh waste”, more commonly known as “More haste, less speed”. The underlying message: when we try and do something quickly, we will make mistakes and take longer in the end.

Why is patience important, when after all we’re in the digital age of hyper speed?

Consider the simplest leadership reason – if we fail to show composure in the face of adversity or frustrating moments, how can we expect to keep our team calm? Good leaders support team members when they exhibit signs of stress or strain.

So, patience is intricately tied to time, or more precisely our perception of time. This means that we can proactively build our patience and do so in anticipation of moments when it will be needed. For instance, if we know a challenging meeting is just around the corner, then we can mentally prepare ourselves by shoring up our ability to remain calm (and thereby demonstrate patience).

Four strategies to practice patience

  1. Listen, ask questions, and remain positive
  2. See something through the eyes of another person
  3. Step back and remove your personal biases
  4. Temporarily suspend your perspective of time

Let’s take a closer look at each one of these strategies.

Listen, ask questions, and remain positive

A key element of patience is the ability to listen effectively and ask good questions. The ability to help our team members depends on our ability to suspend any impatience we may have. That starts with a few key steps:

  • Take a deep breath
  • Take your time, this isn’t a race
  • Respect the pace each individual needs
  • Adopt a positive mindset 
  • Trust the process 

A practical example of a positive mindset: you arrive home after your usual 30-minute commute home took 3 hours, you battled a ferocious snowstorm, crawling traffic, and fender-bender accidents. You just want to sit down quietly and start to bounce back from this wearing experience. Instead, out of town friends unexpectedly drop by. In that moment, you can either:

  • Allow the frustration of the commute to show through your tone of voice, attitude, and body language, or
  • Enthusiastically greet your friends, thank them for coming given the crazy weather and then enjoy a nice evening with them.

The first approach is more of a victim mindset and the latter is a leadership mindset, the impact difference on others is obvious!

See something through the eyes of another person

How many times have you been tempted to quickly jump in to judge and share your views about another person’s circumstances? It is easy to do, however it fails to consider the circumstances through the eyes of another person. A good leader will remain objective. They do so by suspending their own personal views and considering the situation through the eyes of another.

This provides a perspective that allows us to:

  • Remain patient
  • See the big picture
  • Help team members see the path towards a viable solution

Step back and remove your personal biases

Stepping back is an important step towards understanding the points of challenge or tension that need resolving. Part of stepping back also means getting to grips with how others are problem solving. This, in turn, allows us to anticipate issues and identify the root causes of those issues. This reflective process requires empathy so that the team know we care about their concerns and them as individuals, and it needs our impartiality to avoid taking a side.

Temporarily suspend your perspective of time

Special forces teams know from years of experience that operating in critical or sensitive crisis situations requires execution in a smooth and slow manner to speed up the mission. Why? Because it reduces rework and errors.

This approach necessitates organizational speed to be measured in two ways:

  • Operational – which is about moving quickly
  • Strategic – which is about reducing the time it takes to deliver value

The special forces lesson: we need to clearly explain from the beginning what delivering value means for the team.

Final thoughts on patience

High performers routinely have high standards, which they also demand in others. However, it is more helpful to adopt reasonable expectations of team members. Take the time to get to know their strengths and potential vulnerabilities (in terms of trigger points for peer tension). By understanding our team, linking it to what motivates each of them and supporting each of them throughout – we achieve better outcomes.

So next time you face a test of patience – use the opportunity to self-evaluate your leadership capabilities. The more you practice patience, the greater your resourcefulness, calmness, empathy, and mindfulness as a leader. Patience is all about winning the long game!

Your turn

Sign in to the Community Member Area or comment below to share your views and ideas for practicing patience in your personal or professional life. 

Give it a try!

Cartoon credit: Mimi and Eunice by Nina Paley

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