Leadership & Character – Patience

Politician with clapsed hands sitting behind desk.

There are many attributes that contribute to a positive assessment of the character of a leader.  Each of the positive character attributes contributes in its own way to the ability of the leader to make good, character-based decisions with respect to the actions they take as a leader.  My most recent blog explored the importance of self-control.  The focus for this blog is on a similar attribute – patience.

Like self-control, patience is about exercising restraint.  It is the ability to tolerate or endure situations involving delay, annoyance, trouble or misfortune without getting upset or angry.   High levels of patience are often demonstrated by a remarkable lack of complaining, irritation or loss of temper.  Like self-control, patience is important because it can dramatically impact relationships with others as well as our ability to make good decisions.

Impatient approach to listening and waiting for your turn to speak

Let’s start with the impact that a lack of patience can have on relationships. An unfortunate truth about impatience is that it frequently shows up in interpersonal conversations. Many people seem to believe that the definition of listening is waiting for their turn to speak. Unfortunately, the outcomes associated with this impatient approach to listening can have a very negative impact on the interpersonal relationship. When the listener is impatiently waiting to speak, it can lead to a situation where they interrupt the speaker.  This has the potential to erode the positive equity in the relationship.

Much is said, but nothing is heard

Waiting for your turn to speak and not interrupting is a better approach than interrupting but still has serious negative implications. Although the impatient listener may actually let the speaker finish, their focus is on rehearsing what it is that they want to say rather than listening to what the speaker is saying.  As a result, they don’t hear what the speaker is saying which may result in the speaker feeling unappreciated or ignored. More importantly – and this may be the most significant truth – the speaker who has been waiting for their turn to speak assumes that now that they are speaking, everyone is listening intently. The problem is, by role modeling a ”waiting for my turn to speak” attitude, that becomes the standard that all listeners adopt which means that no one is actually listening. The net result of this is that while much is said, nothing is heard. If this situation repeats itself over time, the quality of the relationship suffers.

Effect of impatience on the quality of decisions

Impatience also has a negative impact on the quality of decisions. We live in a fast-paced world and leaders can often feel rushed when making decisions. The leader’s impatience can lead to a less-than-thorough analysis of the pros and cons of the decision. In their book “Decisive”, authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath recount the story of Alfred Sloan, the long-time CEO and chairman of General Motors. The Heath brother told the story of when Sloan interrupted an important committee meeting with the statement “I take it we are all in complete agreement on the decision here”.  When all committee members nodded their agreement, Sloan followed up with the following statement “I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until our next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement and perhaps gain some understanding of what the decision is all about”.

Alfred Sloan was demonstrating patience with the decision process to ensure that all committee members understood that the most important criteria for making a good decision was quality of information not speed or agreement with the boss. This goes back to our original definition where the origins of impatience come from an intolerance of any kind of delay.

Patience is an attribute that can be learned and enhanced

In order to be successful at growing one’s patience, there needs to be a mindset shift. I remember reading a book many years ago entitled “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff and it’s all small stuff”. I remember thinking that the author Richard Carlson didn’t understand how life really worked.

However, since reading that book, I have seen the wisdom of his thinking. Carlson defined “small stuff” as any situation that wouldn’t really matter a year from now. So, when the driver in the lane next to you on the highway cuts you off, your mindset needs to focus on the fact that this won’t matter 10 minutes from now let alone a year from now. This will enable you to exercise restraint and build patience.

In conclusion, patience is an important part of achieving a high CQ (Character Quotient) resulting in leadership driven by good character values. Leadership assessment and leadership training must take into consideration the integration of positive character traits such as patience in order to help develop a Personal Leadership Effectiveness Culture that reinforces a strong CQ (Character Quotient) within the organizational culture.

As always, I welcome your feedback. You can connect with me via email or telephone or leave a comment right here on the site.

Until next time,


David Town, CHRL, is a facilitator and coach of leadership and management principles that enable individuals and organizations to build greater leadership competency, resulting in higher performance and higher employee engagement. David has a particular focus on effectively managing conversations involving confrontation or conflict. As well, he provides insights and assessment strategies for integrating character competencies into leadership skills resulting in increased trust and reduced risk for leaders. David is President of Your Leadership Matters Inc.

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