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    Should Leaders Really Be Patient?

    HourglassLeaders are rewarded for action. They’re used to being in control and working to influence the environment around them. They have a vision, mission, and objectives to accomplish. Other stakeholders hold them accountable for developing and executing plans to drive results. Providing excuses isn’t part of their vocabulary. So what place does the word “patience” have in the context of leadership?

    To understand, let’s look at patience as a leadership competency.  According to Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger’s model of leadership, patient leaders are tolerant with people and processes; they wait for others to catch up before acting; they try to understand people and data before making decisions and proceeding; and they follow established processes. Meanwhile, leaders who are unskilled in this area act before it’s time to act; they don’t take the time to listen or understand, they think almost everything needs to be done quicker and shorter; they often interrupt others and finish their sentences; they’re action oriented and avoid process and problem complexity; and they sometimes jump to conclusions instead of thinking things through.

    Now I’m sure you can think of a number of leaders who have demonstrated a lack of patience; and how did you feel working with them? Were you exasperated? Did you do your best to avoid them? Did you devise strategies to work around them or to try to get them to understand a particular point of view? Their impatience prevented them from getting the best work from you and others on their team, and from maximizing results.

    Learning to be patient means learning to wait, to pause, to listen and to think. It requires acceptance of the fact that you can’t control or influence the outcomes you desire in every situation. It does not however, mean doing nothing. It involves an active state of mind by focusing on the desired future state, along with taking action within one’s sphere of control.


    Proper Patience

    So when is exercising patience the appropriate thing to do? Here are some examples.

    1. Right position/right person– In my work I interact with a number of leaders who are seeking new positions, and organizations who are seeking new leaders. Position seekers polish their resumes to reflect their best skills, actively network, and put their best foot forward in interviews. Organizations write robust position descriptions, identify the best search strategy and conduct detailed interviews. But neither can fully control finding the right match of person to position.  Position seekers lament not getting the job they really wanted, and organizations lament not being able to snare that elusive “purple squirrel.” There’s a fit that comes naturally when the right person meets the right position, and you can’t force it.  Unfortunately, I have many examples of impatient position seekers who acted too quickly and accepted the wrong offer; and organizations who in their haste failed to thoroughly evaluate a candidate.

    2. Listening to others’ points of view– Patient leaders exhibit respect for the people they work with, because they recognize three basic tenants. First, they know that they can’t think of everything themselves, and they need to surround themselves with smart people who will contribute to the organization’s results. Second, they understand the need to thoughtfully evaluate situations and identify appropriate options. And third, they recognize that diversity of thought always yields better results.

    3.  Process focus– Patient leaders recognize the importance of clearly understood and communicated processes and procedures. Impatient leaders want to skip steps in the name of driving faster results and getting to the end. Instead, it’s critical to have experts design processes where each step is well thought out, necessary, and streamlined; and to ensure that all stakeholders understand the value of the process.

    4. Economy and environment– This is the big one. No matter how hard you try, there are variables that are completely outside of your control and influence. Look at recent economic downturns. While many leaders will go to great lengths to influence these situations: You can’t make people buy your product or service. You can’t make people spend their money. You can’t fully control consumer sentiment. You can’t make mergers and acquisitions happen. You can’t fully predict the future. You have to optimize the variables that you can control, then be patient as you wait for things to change, and try to understand how they’ll change.


    Your Test of Patience

    Every leader faces the challenge of demonstrating patience, in situations from the simple to the complex.  A leader’s ability to respond appropriately with patience is a demonstration of maturity. It involves a mental perspective of peace in the midst of uncertainty, and avoiding self-damaging behaviors while anticipating future outcomes.

    Oscar Munoz likely faced the greatest test of patience in his life when he suffered a heart attack 38 days after taking over as CEO of United Airlines. Almost three months later he had a heart transplant, and returned to work several months thereafter. Obsessed with fitness, and a committed vegan, Munoz probably never expected this to happen. He assumed leadership of the company when it was still trying to recover from a disastrous merger several years earlier with Continental Airlines, and was in the midst of strife with multiple unions. His career to date was filled with successful roles at multiple companies. He was used to being in control and turning companies around. But there’s nothing a transplant candidate can do to make a donor heart available. It requires a new level of patience, and maintaining a positive mindset during the wait.2

    So prepare now to better handle your own tests of patience. Big or small, complex or simple, these situations will find you, and you get to choose how you will respond.

    iStock photo


    1. Lombardo, Michael M. and Robert W. Eichinger,  FYI For Your Improvement: A Development and Coaching Guide, Lominger Limited, Inc., 1996.
    2. Tully, Shawn, “How United’s Oscar Munoz Bounced Back After a Heart Attack,” Fortune Magazine, 18 Nov. 2016.


    Copyright 2017 Priscilla Archangel

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