Patience: “It’s not how long you wait, but how WELL you wait”

Waiting is hard! I remember, as a child, the long wait until Christmas. If you have children, I’m sure you’ve heard, “How many more days till Christmas?” many times. In my teen years, the time dragged on forever until I was old enough to drive a car. Learning – and teaching – patience is a challenge.

Developing patience seems especially difficult in today’s world. With the scan of a credit card, you can avoid waiting for anything you want to purchase. A few decades ago, you actually had to save 10-20% of the cost of a house in cash before you could qualify for a loan. So, most home buyers started small and eventually worked toward their forever home. Today, loans can be obtained for zero down and more than 30 years to pay. Thus, buyers can immediately move into their dream home despite having a tenuous cashflow situation.

Let me provide a couple more examples of a lack of patience I have observed in life and during my time in the workplace:

  • In one of my positions, our group hired many individuals with 1-2 years of prior experience. I recall more than once when one of these individuals might say something like, “I’ve been here now for over 6 months and I’ve done everything I’ve been asked to do. What does a person have to do around here to get promoted?” Rather than taking the time to learn as much as possible about the position, these individuals are more concerned with a rapid climb up the ladder. Credibility and value are often garnered over the course of time and having a long-term career view can often make a difference. In many cases, an individual that has developed depth rather than breadth is more valuable to the company.
  • I have observed some individuals with great potential change positions too frequently. I recall more than one coworker that was recruited from one position to another, often lasting less than a year in any position. It appears that such an individual is a rising star in the organization. However, this individual cannot possibly develop the depth of knowledge or experience that will facilitate expertise in any one area. In addition, this individual usually has no time to create any work product that can make a difference to the company. What “accomplishments” or new skills can you accumulate in such a short time that will make you a more valuable asset in future positions?

OK, so let’s say we all understand that patience is good and something we should strive to develop and perfect in our lives and careers. Easier said than done, right? So, what are some steps we can take to build patience in our own lives or to help teach the skill of patience to others? What does waiting well look like?

When you wait well, you do these six things:

  1. You develop depth (e.g., more and better skills) – You can choose to either waste your waiting time or use it to become better at what you’re doing. Waiting gives you time to gain depth in what you do, expand your knowledge, and become an expert. Instead of spending waiting time complaining about the delay, use it as an opportunity to become a better and more productive individual.
  2. You actually produce a work product – These days, hiring managers seek individuals that have demonstrated experience or have created value in previous positions. Waiting periods actually give you the opportunity to do just that. When waiting, take the initiative to do something new, volunteer for a project, or create new value.
  3. You enhance your network – One of the biggest drivers to career success is the network of individuals you develop and maintain throughout your career. When you are in a waiting pattern, use that opportunity to get to know others. Seek out individuals that are successful. Enhance your network in width (new individuals) and depth (knowing individuals better).
  4. You have the opportunity to positively influence others – The older (or more experienced) you get, the more you will learn that pouring your life into the success of others provides gratification and fulfillment. You become more focused on others and less on yourself. A period of waiting is the perfect time to invest in others. Whether you are a mother raising preschool children or a career professional on the brink of a promotion, using this time to help others thrive, grow, and develop will pay long-term dividends.
  5. You build character by serving others – You’ve probably heard this many times… “patience builds character.” This is true IF you use the time to grow, learn, and serve. Shifting your focus on serving others will automatically help you grow personally and, in the process, you will learn from those you serve.
  6. You allow pieces of the puzzle to fit together naturally, rather than in a forced manner – Many times in life, the pieces of our puzzle don’t fit together with the timing and in the order we might personally desire. When we demonstrate patience during our waiting periods, we may be allowing time for other events to occur that make real success for us possible. Yes, there are some times when we need to exhibit initiative and drive, but, there are other times when we need to wait to allow things to develop in the right way at the right time. Many times in my life, I was able to look back, after the fact, to see just how things occurred in the perfect timing. And, if I had tried to rush things, I would have missed out on blessings I never knew were coming.

So, do you find yourself in a waiting pattern today? Are you struggling to be patient? Well, you certainly are not alone. However, when you are able to exhibit the patience to wait well, you may avoid rushing decisions that have dire circumstances. Waiting well can often mean more to you personally or to your career than if events had moved faster in the first place. Think about what you can do to make your wait better and more productive.


I was just kidding about my “just kidding” comment

creepy doll

I am blessed with the chance to spend a couple days each week with my 5-year old grandson. It is amazing how young kids learn to attempt to get their way. Recently, he said all he wanted for breakfast was some cookies and milk. I’m not normally one to judge the “goodness” of a breakfast of cookies and milk. However, for a 5-year old, I try to set a good example. I told him, “No, the milk is fine, but you need to have something else good for you for breakfast.” He said, “Just kidding.” He really had meant that he would prefer the cookies for breakfast, but used the “just kidding” statement to smooth it over with his Grandpa.

Later, I was thinking about the “just kidding” comment and realized that we almost never really mean it when we say it… even as adults. We often twist our words to justify our actions or to create our own version of the facts. For example:

  • Politicians and business leaders often create a “narrative” to minimize or shift negative news (see Who needs a “narrative” when you can just as easily tell the truth?)
  • Commentators (or business communicators) often “spin” the news to alter the truth
  • We often alter the truth in the form of “white lies” to avoid hurting feelings
  • Some leave out important details to ensure their own viewpoint is heard
  • Individuals often stay silent rather than “become the bearer of bad news”
  • Tragedies have occurred because individuals with critical information allowed themselves to support the prevailing opinions (e.g., group think)
  • We frequently see negative consequences because an individual hesitated to “create waves by raising a concern”

Certainly, there are times when our words and actions must be filtered. For example, we typically prefer our doctors to remain positive (“This is serious, but we have a number of options that we can try”) rather than blunt (“You have no chance… you’ll probably die a miserable death”). Some balance is needed. However, what keeps us from being more open, honest, and transparent in our business dealings?

I have to admit that during my last few years working, my “filter” became much thinner than earlier in my career. During those last few years, I became much more outspoken. I sought opportunities to provide alternative ideas and raise issues. I was once termed “the King of Candor” during this time. However, rather than create problems with my own management team and others, this approach was appreciated. In fact, individuals frequently sought my thoughts in meetings and privately because they knew I would provide unfiltered thoughts. I gave up trying to appease others and the result was a greater sense of appreciation for my opinions and perspective. In retrospect, I wish I had adopted this approach much earlier in my career.

Managers need candid individuals to provide balance. All too often, we make poor decisions because we unconsciously solicit only concurrence, not the truth. We need individuals that will disagree with us and will provide alternative approaches. I am not saying that we need to become disruptive or tolerate individuals that are destructive. However, seeking (or providing) alternative opinions will only strengthen the team, the decisions made, and the ultimate performance of the organization.

So, as an individual, seeks ways to enhance your courage to be more candid. Speak up when needed. Always ensure that others have the complete story. When you disagree, respectfully say so and why. Be professional, but be honest. Seek ways to make positive things happen, not to simply identify obstacles.

As a leader, seek individuals that will provide that contrarian viewpoint. Reward open and honest dialogue. Encourage dissenters to speak up, but encourage them to also provide their rationale and potential solutions to problems. Proactively, avoid group think or individuals that merely go along to avoid waves.

So, the next time you are tempted to say, “Just kidding,” remember the words of one of the most trusted and important journalists of the 20th century:

“To be persuasive we must be believable;
to be believable we must be creditable;
to be credible we must be truthful.” 
― Edward R. Murrow

Have a great day!