Being a courageous leader is not always about doing something. Sometimes it is about slowing down and reflecting before acting. Steven Covey, in his book The Eighth Habit, says you have the freedom to choose how you act or react in every situation and circumstance in which you find yourself. You might not be able to control what happens to you, but you can decide how you will react to it. If someone treats you badly, regardless of who it is, you have the choice in how you will respond. In other words, who you are is how you lead.
Patience as a Leadership Skill
The eighth habit allows you to create the space needed to reflect before you respond. With that in mind, have you ever thought of patience as being a quality of a courageous leader? The list of qualities usually includes honesty, fairness, motivation, trustworthiness, and good communication. Seldom does patience make the list.
Too often patience is thought of as a weakness when it comes to leadership skills. You are expected to make a split-second decision and move on to the next thing. And if you take time to consider your options or to think strategically, you are viewed as slow or incompetent.
Patience and Emotional Intelligence
So, let’s consider Webster’s definition of patience, “the quality of being capable of bearing affliction calmly.” From that perspective, patience is part of your emotional intelligence. When you understand patience as having the ability to stay calm in the face of disappointment, adversity, or distress, then being patient allows you to better process challenging situations.
Patience helps you sort out your thoughts and to bring your feelings under control. It reduces the risk of angry outbursts. It helps you improve the quality of your decisions. Patience is key to developing relationships, establishing trust, and instilling hope. Patience is a cornerstone of true and courageous leadership.
Patience is Difficult to Practice
In his book, If You Will Lead: Enduring Wisdom for the 21st-Century, Doug Moran writes, “Patience is an easy thing to talk about, but it is extremely difficult to practice.” Then he uses Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” to describe patience:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,”
Moran writes, “Most of us think of patience as a construct of time, but Kipling was addressing the broader definition – enduring difficulty and hardship while awaiting the appropriate opportunity to act.” He is also referring to the patience required to bear the nagging and sniping that often accompanies a decision to wait.
Patience is Courageous
As a courageous leader, you use patience when you focus on your mission, name the current reality, and wait with understanding and compassion as you help others take the appropriate and effective action needed to live into the mission. Again, patience requires composure and character. By modeling patience, you reinforce the importance of focusing on the mission and long-term goals.
Keep in mind that the bigger the goal, the more patience is required to remain committed. It will require patience with strategic planning, negotiation, people development, vision casting, etc. Moving from where you are to where you want to usually means you must face issues, barriers, and obstacles along the way. It is easy to see what you want to accomplish and jump ahead without exercising the patience needed to get there. Being a courageous leader means understanding that patience might require sacrificing short-term glory for long-term results.
So, why am I writing about leadership and patience? I am learning more about patience each day, with each and every new interaction with you, our colleagues, and others who I am meeting along the way.
I have often heard that patience is a virtue, but it is also one of the “fruits of the spirit” listed by Paul in Galatians 5:22-24: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against things like this. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the self with its passions and its desires.”
As a fruit of the Spirit, or as a characteristic of a follower of Jesus, patience is “the ability to hold one’s temper for a long time.” The word is translated as “longsuffering” in the King James Version. It comes from a position of power or authority. You might have the ability to take revenge or cause trouble or react with just cause, but patience brings self-restraint and careful thinking.
As a follower of Jesus, you chose to love when love is not present. You model compassion and grace as you lead through trying situations. Because God is patient or longsuffering with you, you are to suffer long with others. You not only become a better person and leader, but you also reveal who you are as a daughter or son of God. Who you are is how you lead.
Reminders About Patience
So, as you lead through turbulence and chaos, be patient with those entrusted to your care. When you are faced with complex decisions in demanding situations with people who are insisting on their own way, keep the following in mind:
Take time to pause and breathe before responding. Patience allows you to slow down and maximize your time and decision-making. Abraham Lincoln once said, “If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I would spend the first four hours sharpening the ax.
Keep the end in mind. Stay focused on your mission. There will be distractions, barriers, and detours along the way. Patience allows you to face each challenge as you move toward your goal.
Keep in mind the people with whom you are interacting. Don’t take your personal frustration out on them. Be generous. Patience allows you to be generous with them, giving them the benefit of the doubt.
Keep in mind what you need to communicate along the way. When is the best time to communicate? How will you share information? Patience allows you to slow down and think things through. Understand that the way you express yourself can motivate and uplift others.
As you model the power of patience, others will follow your lead. Be prepared to respond to the unexpected. The best plans usually have to be modified along the way. The sign of a good plan and effective leader is the ability to respond effectively when things go awry. Unforeseen events are always a test of patience. Patience allows you to respond in a healthy and effective way.
Be a Patient, Courageous Leader
There are those who say, “Patience is a virtue.” They are correct. But as a leader, patience is a characteristic of courage and effectiveness. You are facing challenges for which you are unprepared. Take the time to pause and reflect. Courageously endure the pressure to react before responding.The words of Kipling, “wait and not be tired by waiting,” will reveal who you are as a leader. Because who you are is how you lead.