Patience: The ability to accept or tolerate delay, trouble or suffering without getting angry or upset. (From my Mac dictionary.)
Synonyms: forbearance, tolerance, restraint, self-restraint, stoicism.
When I asked leaders about a skill they wished they had developed earlier in their career, many responded “patience.” It prompted me to reflect on what it means to show patience as a leader and how it enhances our positive impact on others. I also thought about patience as a skill because I have caught myself saying, “I’m so impatient” or, “I just don’t have the patience” so many times. But if patience is a skill, then surely, I can develop it. The question, therefore, is not, “Am I or am I not patient?” rather, “What do I need to change to show patience?”
What does patience mean in the context of leading?
To me, it means taking the time to understand others’ perspective before reacting. It means taking the time to help others understand our perspective without getting frustrated when they don’t get it, whatever the “it” might be (how to do something or a goal the school/company is working towards, etc.). Patience also means giving our team members the time they need to process information or learn to do something differently. It means understanding that no two brains are alike.
Neuroscience shows that we all have different circuitry, and it takes effort and volition to accept the implications of this statement: others cannot understand or perceive the way we understand or perceive, and they cannot do the way we do. For example, as an educational leader, perhaps I want everyone to get this new way of entering grades quickly so I can move on to checking the grades. However, one teacher just gets on with it and is done in a couple of days while another keeps asking questions, making mistakes, and needs a week to get used to the new program. Patience will have me place others’ needs before mine – and take the time to ensure I support those who need a little more time instead of getting frustrated with them.
Patience means redirecting our negative emotions such as frustration or anger in order to act from a place of non-violence, support, and kindness. It means allowing others to tackle situations and tasks in their own ways and at their own speed, without letting our expectations overtake our reactions.
What are the positive effects of a leader’s patience?
It is key to understand that our brain is constantly scanning for danger, a trait inherited from our past and still present in all of us. This tells us that we need constant reassurance and all the positive feedback a leader can give us. We need the help of a leader’s positivity and patience to work from a “toward” state, one in which we are not feeling threatened. Our patience will help build trust and certainty for our team members. By being supportive, listening, taking and giving time and using failure not as a reason to punish but as a start for growth, we are creating a safe environment for our teams. One in which they can thrive without having to constantly scan for threats.
A leader’s patience, therefore, is a trampoline to productivity!
By creating a supportive, caring and open workplace, we are allowing our team members to be creative and open to change. By letting people know our belief that mistakes contribute to growth, we are demonstrating trust instead of triggering a threat response, and we are giving our team members autonomy. All of those — trust, support, and autonomy — are key factors with a tremendous impact on workplace morale and therefore on productivity.
Now, that is not to say that we never get frustrated or annoyed. We are human! However, how we choose to handle these emotions is what counts. Patience asks that we redirect those emotions to act from a place of understanding and what yogic philosophy calls “ahimsa,” non-violence.
If patience is a skill, how can I develop it?
Have you heard of “veto power”? Summed up briefly, here is what happens: our brain generates a signal to take an action 0.5 seconds before we take the action. At 0.2 seconds, we become aware of the urge to act. At 0 seconds, we act. (David Rock – Coaching with the Brain in Mind). This means that we have 0.2 second to decide not to take the action! That’s right! We have a choice: I give you “veto power”!
And of course, the more we veto our actions, the easier it becomes to do so.
Now, what does this all have to do with patience? Here are some ideas: next time you are about to let someone know you are frustrated with them in the moment, use your veto power and take a deep breath instead. Next time you want to throw your arms up in the air because someone did the wrong thing… again! Use your veto power and take a deep breath.
When we use our veto power, we are creating new circuitry in our brains, showing it that one way to react is better than the old way, and as I mentioned, the more you use it, the easier it gets. The more you take a deep breath consciously, the more patience you are gaining and the easier it becomes to be…well…patient.
Of course, this does not mean we are not dealing with the situation or that we accept everything that comes up.
What it does mean is that this gives us the time to reflect and decide how to deal with the situation with kindness. And perhaps, kindness means having a challenging conversation or asking someone to redo something, but it means doing so from a place of non-violence, of ahimsa. It means we are willing to work with this person to help them through and give them a chance to be in the right frame of mind when they are receiving the challenging information.
Patience in the leadership of others means being able to take a step back to have the best possible impact on others by leading ourselves to avoid impulsive reactions. What does it mean to you?