When A Leader Has To Wait


The foundation under every leader is character – good or bad. This is the fourth in an occasional series for leaders who want to be intentional about their character. Click here for the introduction to the series.
When is the last time you, as a leader, had to wait for something? Had to slow down? How did you respond?
I know at least three leaders that have been forced to slow down recently.

For Leader #1, the market has changed on him. Products that he was selling like gangbusters two years ago are now out of favor. He must slow down and re-tool his company.
Leader #2 needs more money. For the last 60 days, he’s been courting investors one moment, and figuring out how to make payroll the next. It has been a grind! He wants to move fast, and yet each day moves slowly into the next for him, with no clear sign of relief.
For Leader #3, 2016 was a year of continuous personal losses and pain. Every other month seemed to bring another illness, injury or death in his family. He was forced to postpone growth plans at work because he simply didn’t have any capacity to do more than maintain his company obligations.

How do these leaders lead at their best through such times? How do they think clearly instead of reacting in panic? How do they inspire their followers instead of succumbing to fear or discouragement?
This is when patience is most critical for leaders – when they don’t have control over their circumstances.

Patience is the antidote to a leader’s lack of control.

Some of the best leaders I know have a reputation for moving fast. They are proactive. They take the initiative. They act with a sense of urgency. Good leadership traits, yes? But they need patience to lead well when they cannot drive outcomes as quickly as they want.
Patience isn’t just needed for major setbacks. I see wise leaders applying it in everyday situations like:

  • Hiring. Patient leaders are “slow to hire and fast to fire.” They take the time to make quality additions to their team.
  • Building trust. Patient leaders know trust is the glue that holds good teams together. Trust takes time.
  • Delegation. Patient leaders expect that at first it will take someone else more time to do a task that the leader has historically done quickly. But they delegate anyway.
  • Communications. Patient leaders allow important messages to marinate. Whether it’s an external marketing piece or an internal memo, they know when to wait a little longer to determine exactly what they want to say.

To cultivate more patience, consider these practices:

  1. Pause. Don’t react. Resist that unconscious flinch to immediately speak or be the center of attention. Patience runs counter to reacting. Ask yourself: What would a few seconds of waiting buy me? A more thoughtful reply? A kinder response?
  2. Slow down in the small things. Drive a little slower than usual. Chew your food a little longer. Stop trying to multitask. And again, wait to speak.
  3. Appreciate the present. Impatience is frustration over not having what you want, now. Redirect your focus to what you do have in the present, and be thankful.

I address the need for leaders to have patience in my upcoming book on how leaders get better. It is one of the critical disciplines you must have if you want to grow. Why?
I have observed in my work with leaders that real, and lasting, change happens slowly. I remind them, “you didn’t become who you are overnight, and the same applies to who you want to become.”
So if you are a leader who really wants to grow, the first place you will need patience…is with yourself.