When Do Leaders Need to Be Patient?

Is patience a desirable leadership trait?

Monica Diaz (@monedays) asked this question recently on Linked In.  While my immediate response was absolutely, I think it’s important for us to be mindful of whether we are being patient for a higher purpose, or using the veneer of patience as a disguise for avoidance.

Here are a few examples I could come up with for when patience is an act of leadership and when it isn’t.

I would love for you to add to the list.

Patience IS an act of leadership when…

…you are patient wth people as they learn and go through the often difficult work of putting into practice what they are learning.

…you are patient enough to allow for people to stumble and even fail on occassion on their way to success, rather than expecting them to get everything right the first time.

…you are patient enough to allow there to be more questions than answers.

…you are patient enough to encourage people to challenge your thinking rather than expecting them to agree with your point of view because it seems to be faster and easier.

…you are patient with yourself while you learn new things and make new mistakes.

Patience is NOT an act of leadership when…

…you are avoiding making a decision.  For example, using the need for more information or for everyone to agree before you make a tough decision.

…you are tolerating mediocrity (especially when you say you stand for excellence).

…you allow someone to treat you or others badly without addressing it swiftly.  There is a big difference between having patience with people who are exhibiting bad behavior while you help them turn it around and having patience for bad behavior when it happens.

…you are avoiding holding people accountable (perhaps hoping they will self correct).

What do you have to add to either of these lists?


Enter A Comment

Jennifer V. Miller   |   17 May 2012   |   Reply


I once had a mentor tell me, “I have all the patience in the world for a person who is sincerely trying and making progress towards improvement, even if that improvement is slow to come. I have no patience for people who simply will not try or who play the victim.”

Susan Mazza   |   18 May 2012   |   Reply

A wise perspective indeed. Although I also think when people are allowed to wallow long enough (i.e., when mediocrity is tolerated rather than addressed head on) they can forget who they really are. A little tough love typically causes someone to step up or step out. Either way, you and your team are released from the bondage of mediocrity.

Scott Mabry   |   25 July 2012   |   Reply

Great wisdom Susan. Patience is not always valued in business settings. We tend to reward action, sometimes for its own sake. Reminded to live with a patient mindset but not to use patience as an excuse to avoid uncertainty or stay in mediocrity.

Susan Mazza   |   26 July 2012   |   Reply

Thank you Scott. This is well said “live with a patient mindset but [don’t] use patience as an excuse to avoid uncertainty or stay in mediocrity.”