Why Patience is One of the Most Important Qualities a Leader Can Have

ThinkstockPhotos-624713098.jpgThe chasm between a leader and a great leader is a deep one. It is one that is often filled with qualities like clarity, decisiveness, courage, passion, and a healthy amount of humility given the circumstances.

But one of the major qualities that is essential to leadership that people don’t talk about nearly enough is patience. When patience is practiced wisely, it can have a dramatic effect on your entire organization from the top down.

The Ripple Effect of Patience

In general, patience is more important than just being willing to wait for results. Yes, all people are different and employees need to be given room to move at their own pace for the sake of quality. But, the true benefit of patience runs much deeper.

First and foremost, patience shows respect in a way that also encourages productivity at the same time. If you’re the type of leader who delegates responsibility but then spends hours each day telling people to “hurry up” or to “get things moving,” ultimately all you’re really doing is creating frustration or fear in an environment where you can afford neither.

Being willing to wait for someone to work at their own pace shows an employee that you value their overall contribution to the larger organization. You didn’t just choose any person for this job; you chose the right person for the right job. Sometimes, that takes a little more time than you’d like, but that is perfectly fine. Patience is also an important acknowledgment that every person progresses at a different pace. If you’re up in arms every time someone takes a little more time to complete a task, what you’re doing is communicating that they’re not as good as someone else when given the same responsibility.

Patience Also Says a Lot About You, Too

Being patient with others isn’t just about your employees – it also speaks volumes about you. When you’re constantly working from a place of “I needed this yesterday,” all you’re doing is artificially inflating the stakes of the business you’re trying to run. You’re not making considerate decisions; you’re making ones fueled by little more than raw emotion and a ticking clock.

Patience shows that you’re the type of leader willing to stop and let things breathe for a moment. It shows that you’re willing to listen and consider all variables before making a thoughtful judgment about what to do next. It shows that you’re not the type of person to make snap decisions that you’ll later regret and that your employees shouldn’t be willing to settle for that, either.

These are just a few of the many reasons why patience is one of the most important qualities a leader can have. It’s also important to remember that you need to be patient with yourself. Patience is a virtue, yes, but it’s also something of a discipline. You’ll need to acknowledge the importance of patience and the role it plays in your business so that you can grow into the type of leader who no longer has to make an effort to be patient with others. Instead, it will become an afterthought.

Indra Nooyi: A Story in Being Yourself and Persistence

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Have you ever heard of Indra Nooyi? Maybe not, but you’ve probably bought her product at one time or another in the past year. Ms. Nooyi is the CEO of Pepsi-Co., the makers of the popular and well-known Pepsi soda brand. However, her position at Pepsi is not necessarily what is the most amazing fact of her story. Granted, reaching the status of being a Fortune 500 company CEO is huge and significant, but how Ms. Nooyi got her start is the real story. That’s because she risked everything with no safety net to fall back on.

Some Compelling Advice

Indra Nooyi came to the U.S. like so many other great minds, arriving as a student immigrant. Ms. Nooyi jumped to a slot in Harvard’s master’s degree program in business. However, graduating wasn’t her biggest challenge. It was translating her academic success into a result:  getting a job. Ms. Nooyi’s first real interview was total failure – no connection, no rhythm, no job. However, she received a piece of advice from a professor that Ms. Nooyi has carried forward since then to her role as a CEO. She was told to simply “be herself.”

Ms. Nooyi clearly took the advice she received to heart. Not only has she been herself as intelligent, smart, persistent, and daring, she has also scored an enviable position of 75 percent plus support by her own employees worldwide. See if you can find a politician with as much support even when winning a national election.

What Makes A Person Successful?

For business owners and leaders, the lesson from Ms. Nooyi is to never forget what really makes a person successful. It’s not the suit, it’s not the past laurels, and it’s not the school degree. What makes the difference that catches people’s attention and gets their support is one’s personal confidence and persistence. Ms. Nooyi gambled everything with not just coming to the U.S. to succeed but to also establish herself in a highly competitive arena: business consulting. Had she failed, Ms. Nooyi would have had to return back to India and likely would have disappeared into a vast number of IT companies there; everything for her was on the line. But she persisted. And Ms. Nooyi, with her new advice on being herself, was quickly hired. That in turn became her path to eventually becoming Pepsi-Co.’s latest CEO.

A Better Choice

Business leaders trying to keep a company going will at some point face a challenge where everything has to be put on the line to get to the next level. Many don’t take that leap. It’s too risky, it’s too costly, or it’s too unknown. Yet from Ms. Nooyi’s example, the last thing anyone should be doing is trying hard to fake their way through the issue. Be yourself. Trust your skills and trust your gut to make the right the decision. That’s what got a person to a leadership role in the first place, so why should he or she be any different at the moment that counts the most? Risk, responsibilities, fears of what-if can all combine to make someone think behaving differently may be the best path forward. Clearly, from Ms. Nooyi’s example, there’s a better choice.

A Leadership Ethics Lesson Courtesy of a Leeson

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Although ethical behavior in business is often touted, it can be hard to attain in practice. That’s because ethical behavior has to be practiced by every individual, every day. It’s not the sort of thing that can be decided upon and implemented en masse. Leaders are often under particular pressure to be practical over ethical. The reasoning is often because hard decisions require frequent compromise, and ethics often come across as black-and-white perspectives that don’t match the reality facing a decision-maker.

A Virtue You Can’t Afford to Ignore

However, ignoring ethics can be a dangerous path. Nick Leeson provides a very vivid example of this. His name is well known in financial circles as the man who single-handedly put the Singapore financial markets into a panic and brought down one of Britain’s most famous banks.

Leeson got his start early in banking as a clerk in 1985. At first, Leeson seemed to be a success. However, he began quickly playing outside the rules, and because he was bringing in big profits, Barings Bank ignored the risks.

By 1992, trades started going bad. Leeson packed the losses into a technical account originally designed as a dummy account for accounting errors. No one noticed, so he continued on his unethical path of hiding losses repeatedly. The tipping point came in January 1995 when Leeson placed a big trade between the Singapore and Japanese markets. Not expecting a major earthquake in Japan to throw both markets into a tailspin, Leeson realized the gig was up and went into hiding. Barings Bank folded a few weeks later owing £827 million in losses, and eventually, Leeson went to prison.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Interestingly, following good ethics not only avoids situations like Leeson’s, but it also works as a defense for a business leader. The adage, “actions speak louder than words” is true for ethics as well. Ethical behavior not only keeps employees behaving on the right side of the law, but it also gives managers and leaders incentive to work for more than just the bottom line. Ethics can incorporate greater goodwill for the community a business operates in, safety protection of employees and customers, market protection from unscrupulous players, and far better interaction with the government and regulators. All of which, in turn, help a company see a larger bottom line.

No question, the ethical path isn’t always the easiest. However, leaders of companies and organizations need to remember that good ethics involve more than just an individual perspective; by the very nature of their role, top managers affect all of the organization and set an example for staff to follow and the community to model after. Good ethics can be far more than just a set of rules; it can be a powerful marketing/communication tool positively setting a business apart in the market from competitors and creating the long-term foundation for customer retention.

Bad Habits

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An elderly scholar got a request from a wealthy man to help wean his son of bad habits. The scholar agreed to visit his son. The old man took the boy for a stroll through some nearby gardens. Suddenly, the man stopped and asked the boy to pull out some small weeds. The boy reached down and effortlessly pulled the weed from the ground. They walked a little further, and the man asked the boy to pull out a larger weed. The boy pulled harder, and the plant came out with its roots attached. “Now pull that one,” the man said as he pointed to a small bush. The boy pulled with considerable effort, and the bush finally came out.

“Lastly, I’d like to pull out that tree,” he said as he pointed to a large established tree. The boy grabbed the trunk and pulled with all his might for several minutes, but it wouldn’t budge. “It’s impossible,” the boy replied. “So it is with bad habits,” the scholar replied. “When they are young, it’s easy to pull them out, but once they take hold, it’s very difficult to uproot them.”

Here the way I see it: Don’t wait for bad habits to grow into a big problem. Drop them while you can still manage them, or they will take control of you.

Leadership Sometimes Means Showing You’re Human

ThinkstockPhotos-530489960Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors, has seen her share of tough times. She took on the CEO mantle as one of the first female company leaders in the auto industry, only to get slapped with a faulty auto ignition switch recall.

Barra had already done her time in the trenches while going through the GM bankruptcy in 2009. However, when Barra faced down her first big CEO challenge with an ignition switch that was being attributed with killing consumers, she did something no one expected – she apologized.

The Road That Leads to Trust

Barra’s apology rang the auto industry like a deep bell of the apocalypse. Everyone heard it, everyone saw it on TV, and everyone was in shock. Her apology wasn’t the end of the matter, of course. She had to go through multiple congressional hearings, fire managers and engineers she had known and trusted for years, and put the reins on employees to turn the company around. But her leadership was and continues to be rooted in a basic, inherent level of decency to do the right thing. To this day, Barra’s choice to take the harder road has been remembered as well as solidified her as GM’s CEO for a good number of years to come.

Company leaders only get a few opportunities to define themselves and lead the company through a major challenge. After that the die is cast with regards to overall confidence in the leader’s capabilities. Those who succeed gain the invaluable loyalty of staff and supporters through far more challenges in the future because trust is solidified. Those who fail usually see their support begin to erode and, after a few years, have to start planning an exit unless they produce some major new revenues or get lucky.

The Humanness Factor

The success of a leader, as Barra’s example has shown, is rooted in humanness, the ability to come across as a real person. CEOs and leaders often get a bad rap for being distanced from the working floor and aloof from the problems of the average person. Their higher salaries and compensation don’t help matters either. Barra’s apology, however, shows how a CEO can cross such perception barriers and be the right person for the job when it counts. When people need to see someone take responsibility to move things in the right direction they look to a known leader commodity. If that person fails at that moment to be decisive, people then begin to fall away and worry about their personal stake. That can drive away extremely important people assets and potentially kill a company.

Granted, the first thing an attorney will advise is to admit nothing, and tow the party line. However, as Barra has shown, society does forgive serious mistakes if they can trust those in charge.

A City Built 900 Years Ago Can Teach Us a Business Lesson Today

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Between the years 800 A.D. and 1130 A.D. something amazing happened in northwestern New Mexico. Without wagons or horses, no metal tools, and before the arrival of Columbus in 1492 or prairie tribes regularly migrated across the plains, a city existed in a place called Chaco Canyon. This small city (and the network of buildings and hubs) created architecture as high as five stories with trade networks stretching down deep into tropical Mexico. It was inhabited year round and included storage, ovens, living quarters, and plenty of protection from the high desert winter (the elevation is above 7,000 feet in most areas). Most amazing, the architecture involved using load-bearing timbers placed with an experienced eye and allowing multiple-level building structures made of three-feet-thick stacked, stone slab. It was not an accident how this ancient city was built and sustained.

Pressing On

The persistence of the ancient Chaco Canyon residents is an even more surprising fact. Many of the timbers and logs involved in the construction of the homes came from far away. The typical plant growth in the area of Chaco is essentially shrub brush and desert flora. There are no trees or forests. Further, the entire Canyon area is surrounded by mesas that are easily five to ten stories high. They are not at an easily climbed elevation out of the Canyon. In fact, the only flat exit out of the Canyon area is to the south, miles away. So how did all the timbers get there in the first place? Persistence. The residents of Chaco walked the timbers from up to 75 miles away from where trees and forest grew. Without horses, wagons, or any easy transportation, the residents of Chaco walked and imported every building material from the outer region fifty to one hundred miles away.

Businesses today are often swamped with offers and promises that the next big technology, motivational program, computer hardware, commercial vehicle, or transportation plan will transform their company and produce huge new market rewards. While there’s plenty of sales language involved, the real fuel that helps businesses break through challenges and grow more is pure, old-fashioned persistence. Things are easy when the elements of business are cooperating; what matters is what helps the business sustain itself and continue to succeed when times are tough.

Look Beyond Your Resources

Persistence is a skill that intelligently keeps things going when resistance occurs and requires smart thinking and ingenuity. Managers and leaders are frequently faced with problems and not enough resources; it’s rare that a business leader gets to deal with a problem with the ideal amount of resources available. However, persistence shouldn’t be confused with being stubborn and banging one’s head against a wall needlessly. Persistence is focused but also capable of being redirected to work around an obstacle instead of only through it.

The people of Chaco Canyon are long gone, having stopped building their city by 1130 A.D. likely due to a serious drought and lack of any more resources being available. However, what they did produce for 300 years required consistent dedication in extreme conditions. Business leaders can take a lesson from history in what these early people accomplished. They figured out how to solve a problem and thrive in a desert environment that would otherwise work against them. Managers and company owners have to find a way to get above the weeds when faced with problems and define clear paths. It’s not easy, but persistence is what makes the impossible very possible.

The Amazing Power of Peer Pressure in Groups

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When Stanley’s daughter was about five and a half, it was time for her to pick out her first bike. No surprise, she wanted something with bold colors and controls. The typical child bicycle for girls was frequently some kind of flowery motif, a princess bike, or a fairy theme. However, when Stanley brought his daughter to the store, he made a point to tell her she could pick any bike in the store for her size. And she chose a bold, fire-engine red Transformers bike for her favorite TV robot heroes. Stanley wasn’t sure about the pick and asked her again if his daughter was sure. She looked around and within ten seconds was done; it would be the Transformers bike without question. So, that’s the bike she got.

A month later Stanley’s daughter went with her sister to the local park. They were back within minutes, and the younger one was crying. Stanley asked them what happened and, between sobs and hiccuping, his younger daughter blurted out she had been picked on for riding a boy’s bike. The culprit was other neighborhood kids, particularly girls. Stanley’s daughter rolled her Transformer’s bike into the garage, laid it down, and ran inside sobbing. That was the last time she ever rode that bike again. Stanley tried to see if she would ride it again a month later, but no luck. The bike ended up going to charity.

Every day at work people face decisions that they must then put in front of others, their peers. Like Stanley’s daughter, they will meet people who will criticize and oppose actions or directions chosen. Sometimes it’s for technical reasons and sometimes they do it just to be a pain. However, those peer pressure decisions can be immense depending where one is in their career. If starting out, and the opinion comes from more experienced peers, the pressure can have a huge effect on how people try to fit in, even causing anxiety in some folks. Everybody at some point wants to be accepted, and at work, it can be a fundamental requirement to gel with the “team.”

How one deals with peer pressure and compensates for it will dictate how capable of a decision-maker he or she can be. While it would be easy to assume things are top-down, dictatorial, in reality, our decision-making is often an interactive, communal function, so influence matters tremendously. Realizing this and learning how to control the pressure separates good decision-makers from those who can only operate in a vacuum. Controlling it versus being controlled means one rides their “bike” instead of losing it under pressure.

People are fundamentally social creatures, so those who want to be decision-makers need to understand how to use social influence to their advantage, not disadvantage. The last place a decision-maker wants to be is being second guessed or shamed in public when pushing a proposal. Part of effective leadership is knowing how to influence ahead of time and build decision support before the decision actually has to be made. Some call it being “political,” but realistically, effective leadership involves performance with a team, not against it.