Patient Leaders Prevail

Most leaders would agree that the pressures and expectations of business have increased dramatically in the last decade. Results, profits, and value for shareholders often take top priority, and it seems everyone wants everything faster. With technology evolving quickly and the drive to do more with less, many leaders act like things can be accomplished with the push of a button, and when they’re not, they demand answers.

In the process, leaders lose sight of treating people with understanding and support, which burdens everyone with stress and dissatisfaction. Leaders who are unfamiliar with the specifics of how projects are accomplished lack one of the most powerful management tools: patience.

The Misnomers About Patience

Everyone seems to want instant rewards. The reality of instantaneous reward is seldom realistic. The more complex the circumstances, the more time required to implement true solutions. Patience is the combination of understanding that many things take time and the willingness to allow that to play out.

In this fast-paced culture, patience is often seen as an inability to act. This stems from the incorrect assumptions that all direction is immediately evident, or all choices are obvious or no deadline ever dare be missed. Seasoned leaders know better.

When a leader takes time to choose a direction it isn’t always because of insecurity or the inability to grasp the specifics. Getting to the bottom of things often takes great effort and time to assure the most effective decisions can be made. Accounting for past lessons learned is also a significant process. Many corporate directions have failed because plans were rushed.

Another incorrect view of patience is common with that of other “soft” skills; they are associated with leadership weakness. Leadership expert Ritch Eich describes in Industry Week how patience is lumped into the same category as empathy, approachability, listening and transparency. The old-school mindset leads from intimidation, ego and control with little to no consideration of employee needs. In subservient cultures under old-school leaders, workers have little say and few options.

Today, great leaders recognize that employees don’t put up with this. Talented people are hard to find, and retention is key for success. The old leadership mindset requires an entire paradigm shift; respect and support of employees is critical. Soft skills, including patience, are now employed by the best leaders to engage and inspire employees. They know productivity is vitally dependent on employee satisfaction. People on the receiving end of impatience won’t take long to dislike their jobs and find a better one somewhere else. Leaders who have patience are among those who forge the strongest teams and succeed from that strength.

Patience is seen by many as slowing things down, risking the quick completion of critical projects. Impatient leaders see a need to keep the pace of progress hot; they make rapid decisions in order to obtain rapid results. In reality, haste generally raises the likelihood of mistakes and oversights. This can cause major delays when work needs to be redone or cleaned-up. Paradoxically, slowing things down can speed productivity. A leader’s patience in getting things right offers an effective use of time and talent.

Patience for Positive Change

Thankfully, many leaders have recognized the need to change their cultures. Bottom-line priorities of profits and market share are no longer goals unto themselves, but a result of a healthy employee culture. Satisfied and engaged workers enhance the organization and dramatically boost the chances for success.

Change is critical, and it is difficult. People resist it. Wise leaders know that change takes time. Culture shifts can’t be rushed without suffering. Transitioning from close-mindedness to open-mindedness, from a “good-enough” approach to one of excellence, or from market follower to market leader all require a thorough and deliberate process. Patience is needed to allow people to adapt, retrain, rethink and become convinced of the benefits to the company and themselves.

Many cultures are exclusive, patterned after the “old-boy” club where leaders have all the say and privileges and employees are excluded from the decision tree. A top leader needs great patience to turn this around, where employees are included and accepted and a political system becomes more equitable. This may include replacing some leaders who can’t (or won’t) make the needed changes in character. It all takes time to be done carefully.

Change also breeds conflict. Resolving conflict properly requires the patience to listen and work through difficulties, especially ones centering on personalities. Getting to root causes takes time, as does finding the best workable solutions. Many times, the causes lie under the surface, unseen under the layers that need to be peeled away like an onion. The process is one of stepping back to assess, followed by continuous adjustment and understanding, all under the guidance of the leader.

Typical everyday problem solving also requires a leader’s patience to accurately evaluate the situation and guide everyone to a common solution. Sometimes solutions need to be revised to work out the kinks. Rushing this process often causes more difficulty than the original problem.

Patience for Continued Growth

Fulfilling a vision for an organization requires planning, risk, communication, commitment, motivation, engagement and patience. None of this can be rushed. Great leaders make the critical assessments and necessary adjustments, take the appropriate pauses, provide the crucial resources and guidance and allow people the time to adopt new ways. Many corporate plans are dashed when results are forced too quickly. Haste breeds resistance and resentment. Visions are rarely achieved under those disadvantages. As business strategist Glenn Llopis asserts in Forbes, patience is a great sign of a leader’s maturity.

Leaders must also be relationship builders if they are to succeed. No plans, changes or growth are accomplished without the teamwork and unity that strong relationships afford. It’s been said that good leadership requires good followership. In other words, without inspiring people to follow and contribute, a leader can make no progress. Followers are developed only through meaningful and gratifying relationships. This is a slow, deliberate process. Leaders who have the patience to connect with their people can develop the relationships that are critical to meeting their objectives.

Relationship-building involves time-consuming activities like listening, offering and receiving feedback, personal coaching and mentoring. The trust earned in these processes permits the influence a leader needs to prosper their organization.

All of these circumstances involve highs and lows, trials and victories. Leaders with the determination to stay the course, stick to their values and see the changes through come out on top. Patience is a leader’s greatest tool on this journey. A motivated and empowered staff bolsters the rewards that make a leader’s patience well worth having.

Overcoming Leadership Fears

Companies face myriad threats: a volatile economy, politics, cost overruns, competition and disruptive technology, among others. But there’s a particular internal threat that can dwarf them: fear at the leadership level.

Leadership fears can destroy a company in many ways, including:

  • Indecisiveness, leading to missed opportunities
  • Emotional deception, which prompts bad decisions
  • Suppression of people, forcing high turnover
  • Insecurity that manifests as self-centeredness
  • Confusion that causes leaders to miss threats at the doorstep

Fearful leaders often cannot deal with difficult issues or conversations, so moderate troubles balloon into true crises. They also resist taking the risks necessary to move their companies forward.

Fears can take many forms: discomfort, incapacity, negative feelings, failure and self-criticism. Each carries numerous side effects, most rooted in a fear of rejection. Fears make a leader ineffective and paralyzed. Plans are often forfeited, as is success.

We often forget that fears are part of the universal human experience. They’re normal, to some degree, even for leaders. The goal is to avoid compensating for them and, instead, identify and overcome them. A qualified executive coach can prove invaluable, as it can be difficult to recognize your own fears. Leaders who can successfully put their fears behind them—and learn from them—make the greatest strides.

The fear-reduction process has four fundamental pillars, as outlined by management consultant Peter Bregmen in Leading with Emotional Courage: How to Have Hard Conversations, Create Accountability, and Inspire Action on Your Most Important Work (Wiley, 2018):

  • Fears are greatly influenced by a lack of self-confidence. Leaders who boost their confidence address the most challenging of the four pillars.
  • Strengthen your relationships and support structure.
  • Practicing intentionality moves leaders farther away from fear through focus and an effective game plan.
  • Facing fears directly and exposing them puts them behind you for good.

Boost Your Self-Confidence

A lack of self-confidence causes leaders to second-guess themselves and doubt their own abilities. This stifles progress, and the entire organization perceives what’s happening. Unconfident leaders cause staff to lose trust and hope. Everything tumbles downhill from there.

Becoming aware of your feelings is the first step to gaining more confidence. Identifying feelings as they occur can help you pinpoint their causes, which are likely not as traumatic as you may fear. You can handle emotional ups and downs. You’ve reached your current position by doing so. Career setbacks haven’t destroyed you. The failures you’ve endured have made you a better leader, as will future setbacks. Envision yourself confidently navigating the complexities of your job, as you’ve done before, and regain your confidence.

Understanding the motives behind your actions can prove helpful, suggests Citigroup Managing Director Chinwe Esimai in “Great Leadership Starts with Self-Awareness” (Forbes, February 18, 2018). Honorable and reasonable motives help ensure successful outcomes. Build self-confidence by examining your motives. As others respond to your direction and decisions, you’ll receive positive feedback that helps build confidence.

Look for patterns in people’s responses when you act. If their responses are unfavorable, make corrections and learn from them. Positive staff feedback is a fear suppressor. Supplement this with guidance from a trusted colleague, mentor or coach. Be humble, willing to learn and committed to improvement. View criticism as an opportunity to advance your career.

Gaining a healthier perspective can help you conquer your fears. Bregman suggests mastering irrelevancy. Take yourself emotionally off center stage, and put your people there instead. Stepping out of the limelight can bring a sense of greater freedom and reduce your fears. Accepting more of a behind-the-scenes role can work wonders to boost confidence. You’re actually worth more to everyone when you lead with self-assurance.

Without exception, all great leaders have learned the most through their mistakes. Improvements may come with a short-term cost, but the long-term gains are well worth it.

Build Strong Relationships

Self-confident leaders have a support network of solid relationships, which helps reduce fears and fosters unity. Trusted and respected friends can offer critiques without causing offense. We know our friends won’t discard us, which diminishes any fears of rejection. Building relationships with colleagues and subordinates similarly helps you grow and improve.

Leaders must pave the way in building staff trust. Employees respond with trust when their leaders trust, appreciate and support them. Employees who trust you become followers and supporters, which is the best medicine for leadership fears.

Crafting a culture of trust is one of a leader’s most important jobs, and it starts with valuing and engaging people. Giving them the help and support they need earns their trust. As you set the example, let them learn that helping one another is the most effective and productive way to work, where goals are reached and people attain their full potential. There’s less to be afraid of when unity prevails.

Active listening is foundational to developing relationships. Improving this often-overlooked skill builds trust and strengthens connections. Show interest in your people through engaging conversation, where you ask questions and do less of the talking. This shows that you care, and it cannot be faked. People can always sense a lack of sincerity.

Offering your people understanding and empathy in their times of struggle forges loyal relationships that are extremely helpful when you start to doubt yourself or your abilities. Trying to see things from others’ perspective is key. Sometimes people just need to be heard, but if you can help with a solution, you can establish even greater trust.

Improving your communication skills helps mitigate fears, especially when you’re faced with serious challenges. Be clear, and ask others for clarity. Make points that are relevant to the other person’s perspective.

Leadership expert Tony Robbins stresses the importance of discovering others’ needs with openness and sincerity. When both parties express their needs with mutual understanding, they honor each other and establish respect. You’re more likely to find workable solutions that meet everyone’s needs when respect is evident. Situations seem less scary, your confidence rises, and issues are resolved more readily.

Practice Intentionality

Leaders who convert critiques into improvements develop the strongest followings and have the fewest fears. They not only welcome feedback, but they request it. They view constructive feedback as free self-development lessons.

Take intentional action on the feedback you receive. Nothing earns you more respect than admitting you need to improve and taking the required steps to do so. Make sure people can see how your improvements impact their lives. Knowing that every person can improve eases fears. Everyone is in the same boat, and no one has cornered the market on personal and professional development.

Being intentional about preparation—and even overpreparing, at times—removes uncertainty and builds confidence. Gathering facts and data builds objectivity and reduces subjectivity, where concerns and fears can grow. Anticipating the outcomes of different scenarios leaves less to chance. If you weigh the pros and cons of potential choices, your assessment can help you set aside fears. Understand the truth and scope of circumstances, and trust the people who help you determine them. These are positive, logical approaches that create the most effective outcomes because they minimize uncertainty.

Intentionally sharpen your focus on the tasks at hand. Many leaders are distracted by side ventures or rabbit trails. Tempting opportunities often muddle the picture and invite confusion and doubt. As negative emotions gain a foothold, fears quickly follow and self-confidence plummets. Leaders must stay personally focused, while simultaneously focusing on everyone else. Your company’s vision, goals and objectives are your battle cry; distractions and noise must be blocked. Your path to your goal should remain unobstructed. When everyone maintains focus, you can conquer chaos, keep emotions in check and minimize fear.

Intentionality is perhaps best seen in leaders who show resilience when facing setbacks. People need to see a strong, determined leader, particularly during tough times. If you can quickly dispatch disappointments and find something positive in the problem that confronts you, your people will feel more encouraged. This, in turn, encourages you.

Battling fears is easier when you have your people’s faith and support. Establishing a never-give-up approach musters courage, and the greatest leaders adopt this mindset. They may still experience fears, but their determination to move forward with small wins overrides most anxieties.

Directly Deal with Fears

As with many aspects of leadership, the direct approach is best. Facing fears is no exception. With the help of an executive coach, you can craft a plan to deal with your fears head-on.

Bregman encourages leaders to use fear as an incentive. By exposing your thoughts and perceived weaknesses to your coach, mentor or trusted colleague, a secret’s power is broken. Talking through your fears is therapeutic, and you may see how powerless they really are. Freedom eludes you when you bottle up your fears. Solutions are usually less complicated than you first perceive.

If appropriate, admit past fears to your staff—a move that can further reduce their impact. By being transparent and accountable, you’ll earn people’s admiration and avoid criticism or rejection. Strong leaders needn’t fear showing vulnerability if they deal with their fears directly and effectively. With experience, they realize their fears are generally overblown and far less powerful than originally thought.

Take the opportunity to deal with your fears directly and make much-needed leadership breakthroughs. For some people, it takes reaching an uncomfortable level of fear to prompt seeking assistance. In an odd way, consider this a positive step in the self-confidence journey.

There’s no reason to allow fear to debilitate you. Organizations run more effectively—and employees have greater regard for their jobs—when leaders have the courage to lead boldly.