Patience… one of the most important skills you can develop in leadership. Because we live in this world of instant gratification and constant connectedness, it’s not at all surprising that patience continues to be a struggle for everyone, not just leaders. Developing patience impacts all aspects of leadership and helps the leader achieve higher levels of success.
Patience is a critical piece of communication and conflict resolution and vital to a leader’s success. Patience impacts interviewing and hiring, performance evaluations, customer and employee interaction, decision-making and vision. Without realizing it, leaders depend on patience for all day-to-day activities.
When we ask participants of our programs to list character traits they look for in leaders, patience never fails to make the list. But, knowing patience is a desired trait, then recognizing when and where you lack patience and how to develop it are all very different. It’s a challenge, but an important challenge – one that every leader should embrace. So, because it is so very important to grasp this skill of patience let’s make it a priority to focus on developing patience and push your leadership success to new heights while at the same time lower your stress levels.
Let’s walk through one of our examples above – communication – and learn some strategies for developing patience. You simply cannot master effective communication without patience. The entire communication process requires it. Patience is involved in creating the message you are sending by selecting the correct words, using the proper tone, and choosing your method of delivery. People who do not apply patience to communication suffer from misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and conflict.
Keep this in mind: Patience is an active, intentional form of self-regulation. It is active. That means it is work, it isn’t always going to be easy! But, the effort you put in now to develop patience will pay off for you by developing new habits that will serve you well in life and relationships.
Pay attention to triggers. In communication situations, your job in this step is to recognize what exactly is pushing your buttons. Be aware of what words, tones, gestures, etc. trigger you. Also, pay attention to physical reactions. Once you are triggered your body may give you cues that you are having an emotional reaction. You may feel tension. You may feel flushed. You may feel upset, happy, irritated, frustrated, scared, embarrassed…. pay attention because if you are self-aware you will know your response to these triggers. And you must be self-aware, because if you want to master patience you have to know yourself so you are able to regulate your response.
This is the step where most people tell you to count to ten before responding. I’m not suggesting you count to ten, because what I need you to do in this step is to prepare to engage your brain. I need you to slow yourself down and don’t allow yourself to say a word. Once you are triggered (step 1) I need you to immediately engage in slow down (step 2) and say nothing. This is you saving yourself from reacting rather than responding.
MAKE YOUR DECISION
In communication your decision is crafting the correction response. I want you to do exactly what we tell leaders in our class to do with employees that are squeaky wheels, or employees that are good at coming up with problems, but not solutions. I want you to think of two different responses to whatever it is that has been communicated to you that has triggered you. The purpose of two responses is your first response is easy (and may be emotionally charged). By coming up with two you will have to engage your brain. TWO responses minimum. Once you have two responses, ask yourself if either response is emotionally charged. If so, I need you to come up with a third response. And, I’m going to need you to come up with as many responses as it takes to develop a response that is not emotionally charged. When you’re there – that is what you communicate back.
Here’s an example. Your employee always has an excuse for arriving just a few minutes late routinely. This triggers (step 1) irritation in you because it adds to your workload (disciplinary paperwork) and adds stress to the team (covering for the late employee until they get in). You might let irritation rule the day and say to the late employee “You’re selfish.” “You’re lazy.” “You’re irresponsible.” You’ve skipped right over Step 2 and 3 and allowed an emotionally charged statement to come tumbling out. The problem with this is that you now have an emotionally charged employee and nothing gets solved. If you had moved through Step 2 by not allowing yourself to say anything until you engaged Step 3 and found a logical response, “Is there a problem I need to know about?” “Can you tell me what is causing your tardiness?” you will have demonstrated they are a valuable part of the team, you are concerned, and you would have had a more productive conversation that could lead to resolution.
If this example is about vision then step one and two remain the same. Your first step is still recognizing triggers. Because new ideas, progress, what’s next will trigger some emotion. You need to recognize it. Step two then remains the same. Slow down. Decisions rarely need to be made immediately. Give yourself a pause to get to step three and make a decision that is not based on emotion, but based on logic. You can apply these three steps to situations you encounter daily.
At first it might feel like you are wasting time, but once you have developed an intentional form of patience, you will move through these steps quickly. It will become seamless.
Lack of patience is an emotional reaction. It is disengaging your logical brain. Great leaders are better than that. They know the value of what patience can bring to their leadership and to the people they interact with. Commit to developing patience. Your leadership demands it.