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Patience is a Virtue … and it’s a Leadership Behavior

Patrick Nelson, June 6, 2016


Patience is a Virtue

I was recently eating breakfast at the airport and noticed a small sign on the table that said “Prompt Service.” It had buttons I could push to summon a server, similar to a call button on an airplane.

My first thought was “Awesome! Real-time service and I won’t have to wait.” It seemed like this service was designed just for me, as it would allow me to hurry through a meal. My second thought, though, challenged my reaction. Because I am impatient, I wondered how this service would enable me. By not having to wait on others, I wouldn’t be able to improve upon this deficiency of my leadership style.

It might seem harsh to call “impatience” a deficiency, but lately I’ve been paying attention to how my impatience limits my relationships. Think about it for a second.

Imagine a colleague comes into your office wanting to discuss a problem. You’re busy and your impatience sends signals, both verbally and nonverbally, that the conversation needs to wrap up. This causes your colleague to think that you don’t care and that their problems aren’t important. Do you think they’ll go back to you in the future with questions or concerns? Probably not.

I also think about how impatience impacts performance. For example, when I’m rushing through work, mistakes are inevitable. Or when you’re juggling multiple priorities, something will get dropped.

This awareness has allowed me to take practical steps to better manage my impatience and, in turn, become a better leader.

If patience is a weakness for you, try some of these ideas:

  • Identify situations that cause you to be impatient. Recognize these times and triggers and take mitigating steps.
  • Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. By considering other perspectives, you are better able to manage your emotions.
  • View your patience as a service to others. Your ability to exercise patience can have a profound impact on others. Work to understand this impact and how it will help make your team stronger and more successful.
  • Practice. Put yourself in situations where the stakes are low but you can practice being patient. For me, it started with little things like driving slower than I normally would and – of course – not taking advantage of a table top call button so I’d learn to wait on others (who are also waiting on me).
  • Manage your energy. Being hungry or tired can cause you to be impatient. If you know you have a situation coming up where your impatience will be triggered because you’re hungry, grab something to eat prior or bring a snack with you so you can better focus on the task at hand.

As the saying goes, patience is a virtue, but it’s also a behavior that can be developed. This takes time, of course and a great deal of patience.

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