Patience is a virtue

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We’ve heard it for generations: Patience is a virtue.

I was skeptical of this adage for many years. There didn’t seem to be any evidence to prove it. Just the opposite, in fact. Thinking fast, working fast and moving fast seemed the best (and quickest!) way to earn the good stuff: visibility, opportunity and reward. It was true in school, in sports, and certainly in early jobs.

It wasn’t until I became a manager and ultimately a division leader that I began to appreciate the virtue of patience. In time I also recognized that patience is a critical leadership skill and can be a powerful competitive advantage.

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My first inkling came when I supervised an individual who talked continuously and said very little. I watched and listened as other people made fun of this person and discarded everything that was said. In trying to figure out how to help the individual, I began to listen more closely. What I heard was a plea for recognition and some strong knowledge that needed context.

My awareness deepened while conducting workshops and running meetings during which people processed information at different speeds. Some required more time to reach understanding.

My learning was most profound while leading a turnaround effort in which some colleagues refused to accept or adopt change, not because they were inherently stubborn or resistant, but because they had significantly different viewpoints and experience. Having the patience to hear them mattered. Stalemates forced us to map out the business. In doing so, everyone learned and we came up with solutions that yielded new growth.

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Classic Type A’s, who are celebrated for wasting no time, accomplishing way more than the average Joe, and requiring far less rest or down time than their counterparts, may scoff at this notion of patience. Understood. But some may also privately recognize that their relentless pursuit of excellence or being right has the potential to sow seeds of discord, resentment, alienation and revolt at work, and wreak havoc in their personal life.

That’s a strong statement. It is real.

If you have these hard-charging tendencies, please take a moment to reflect. Do you realize how much risk you introduce when your lack of patience makes colleagues and staff nervous? How quick criticism shuts down critical dialog and stimulates bad decisions? Have you considered the costs associated with hair-trigger reactions? Can you sense when your A-players resent micro-judgments that sap their energy or diminish their interest in staying on your team? Pay attention to these signals. They are danger signs. They are also invitations. To listen more closely. To understand more deeply. To encourage rather than critique. To invite more engagement.

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One of the greatest gifts of patience is in helping people find their footing and their voice as they build your business and serve your customers. Your job as a leader is to challenge and support, encourage and correct and develop. Share what you know, allowing others to learn at their pace. Where learning requires urgency and speed of understanding and application, choose your team carefully. There can be no shrinking from this.

Where learning enjoys a longer arc, temper your impatience. Engage people who have an affinity for the discipline, but who may need more time to process and apply. Encourage dialog. Ask how they see things. Listen to understand and appreciate their perspective. You will broaden your awareness and may find innovation in the process. Yes, it will be difficult. Changing one’s natural pace always is. You may decide the results don’t warrant your discomfort. Take your time in reaching that conclusion.

Patience becomes powerful when it delivers competitive advantage through a more confident workforce. Anyone can replicate your technology or marketing or sales formulas. They cannot replicate strong thinkers and bold decision makers.

Patience in today’s business world feels like a luxury. But if you can discipline yourself to 1) slow down on occasion, 2) focus with the reciprocal intent to impart knowledge and learn something new, and 3) extract and give back value to everyone involved, you will have practiced a critical leadership skill. You will have energized people to make what exists better and expand what’s possible through collaboration.

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