Patience, Grasshopper

If you were a kid in the ’70s, you may remember the cult classic TV show entitled “Kung Fu” starring David Carradine as Kwai Chang Caine. It was the story of a monk, attempting to travel through the Old West to find his brother. His teacher, Master Po, called him “grasshopper” as a child, emphasizing patience as the ultimate martial arts skill. Interestingly enough, since that time, this saying has gained traction, is often used in pop culture, and beautifully illustrates what we are discussing today. Could it be that this off-the-cuff saying has some real meaning that we can learn from in our own leadership? I think it does!

Leading effectively — especially during a crisis (much like we are experiencing now) — takes patience. If you can’t retain your composure in the face of frustration or adversity, you won’t be able to keep others calm. If you leap ahead to “the answers” in a meeting without having a well-vetted team discussion, you won’t see the collaboration you desire. If your direct reports show signs of strain, and you get irritated, not supportive, that is a miss. If you get aggravated by slow progress, not taking time to understand real hurdles, your team will feel it. Remember, solutions to the new challenges we are currently facing in such a VUCA world take time.

In working with teams and leaders of those teams, impatience is one of the characteristics I see most prevalent at the top.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard an exec say – I am saying it 7 times in 7 different ways…and it is just not sticking!  So many (including myself) struggle with patience and have a hard time truly finding it. We expect people to pick up on our vision and expectations. We want quick fixes and can’t wait for strategies to take hold. This tendency is only reinforced by squeezed timelines, supply chain issues, shareholders who want to see action, and our agile digital work world, which seems to prize hyper-speed.

How Can Leaders Boost Their Patience?
If you want to build your patience, you are not alone!  Does it take time?  Yes, and if you are impatient, isn’t that uncomfortable?  Yes!  But, as you know, self-awareness and budling your leadership capabilities is what we consistently push you to do.  And, high-achieving people love challenges, so just take all of this in…if you get one golden nugget from this article, then I have done my job today.  Here are some helpful strategies:

1.Notice what triggers your impatienceTracking your emotional state during the day can help you better define situations and behaviors that trigger your impatience. When you are sitting in a staff meeting or discussing a project with peers, you might feel frustration rise…reflect on what that is. Simply observe it and reflect on possible root causes.  Honestly, doing that for a couple of weeks will help you become aware of what is triggering you.  Does it have to do with a core values clash or does it put you in a tough spot?  Really look at those types of patterns. Next, being able to be proactive about those triggers and learning new ways to communicate your vision and expectations to your team will be key to leveraging that impatience.

2. Realize others don’t work the way you doA coach once told me this and I have really taken this one to heart.  Our automatic bias is that others around us experience the world as we do.  Stop and think about the diversity on your team…some people may be good at implementation, some may be extremely efficient, and some may be a creative type.  BUT, they may not work at the pace and have the perspective that you do.  Appreciate what they bring to the team and that will have a huge impact on your leadership capabilities.  Sounds simple…but it’s not.

3. Redefine the meaning of speed. Whew…this is a good one…are you ready?  The U.S. Navy SEALs are known for their saying “Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.” These rapid-response special forces teams are paradoxically methodical and patient in both planning and executing their time-critical missions. They have learned over 60 years of operating in crisis situations that working at a slow and smooth pace reduces mistakes and re-dos and, in the end, speeds up the mission. In short, they have learned that leaders shouldn’t “confuse operational speed (moving quickly) with strategic speed (reducing the time it takes to deliver value).” And this of course means that leaders need to clearly define what delivering value means from the start.

4. Develop grace and understanding. For some people, this comes naturally.  You may know or be one of those people who has the gift (or curse at times) of reading people well and understanding what someone is going through.  Leverage that strength if you have it!  If you have other gifts, but not the gift of empathy…slow down and rationally think through what your team member may be up against.  If someone comes to you with a complaint, look at the situation through their lens. It doesn’t mean you are going to agree with or accept what is being said, it just means that the other person will be heard and acknowledged.  Big leap!

5. Thank your way to patience. If there is one thing I believe in and practice every day, it is being grateful!  Gratitude has powerful effects on our attitudes and behaviors. Research shows that people who journaled about things they were thankful for increased generosity and lowered stress.  It is no wonder then that gratitude may also positively spill over to our ability to demonstrate patience. Research in experimental psychology has found when people feel more grateful, they are better at delaying gratification and are more patient. Especially in the middle of a crisis, it may be hard to feel grateful, but just try it and see what happens.

The bottom line is effective leadership behaviors are enhanced by a show of patience. Practice engaging patiently and you will see increases in your team’s creativity, productivity, and collaboration. Rush and, sadly, you won’t live up to your potential as a leader. Remember, your people deserve the best possible leader!