But, as in all things in leadership, balance is required. Good leaders balance this decisiveness with a healthy dose of patience. There are times when we need to act; there are times when we need to wait and be patient.
Specifically, there are three times when patience is essential to move our businesses forward.
Patience When Emotional
This is the hardest and most important time for us to be patient. When angry or emotional, we need to be patient, end the discussion or meeting, and come back to the issue later when emotions are not running quite so high. The Chinese say it well:
“If we are patient in a moment of anger, we will escape a hundred days of sorrow.”
Warren Buffett probably says it better:
“Don’t do things in anger: ‘You can always tell a man to go to hell tomorrow.’”
Patience in Problem Solving and Decision-Making
When our direct reports or teams encounter problems or obstacles, as leaders, we all want to jump in, fix the problem, and move onto the next task. Instead, we often need to practice patience, only offer our coaching, and let the individual or the team sort out and resolve the problem themselves. This develops the individual or team and builds confidence for future challenges.
Likewise, in decision making, we do not need to make every decision now. A good rule of thumb (from the book: Skills for Success: The Experts Show the Way) is that 15% of decisions need to mature and be made at a later date and a further 5% of decisions need not be made at all – either the decision is not important enough or the issues resolved themselves.
Patience in Long-Term Negotiations and Strategy
As leaders, we need to think long-term and have the patience to let some problems or issues simmer for a while. Perhaps, it might not be the time to solve the problem. Perhaps, the issue may not be a high enough priority for us or our team. Or perhaps, the problems or issues just need to play themselves out.
In a previous life, I was involved in acquisitions. We often would try to acquire a company, not agree on a price, and just wait for the right moment when the deal would come together. In one deal, we tried to acquire a company in the Midwest in 1996, kept in touch, and then finally completed the acquisition in 2005 – nine years later.
Such patience in sticking to a long-term plan is often uncomfortable. As leaders, we want to make a decision and get the job done. This patience is even more difficult when circumstances turn against us.
Several years ago, there was a young, brilliant chess player who was rising rapidly up the ranks of chess greats. He seemed like a future world champion. But a former world champion doubted this, remarking:
He will never become World Champion (in chess) since he doesn’t have the patience to endure worse positions for hours in order to win the game at the end.
As leaders, we need to be patient to make decisions or take advantage of opportunities when it is the time to do so and most advantageous to us. The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu sums it up well.
Do you have the patience to wait / Till your mud settles and the water is clear.