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Stop Waiting. Start Doing. How Patience Fuels Success for Leaders


 “If I’m not taking action consistently, then I’m not practicing patience. I’m just waiting.” 

James Clear

Imagine this: You’ve spent weeks perfecting a daring marketing campaign or tirelessly crafting a communications plan with purpose and pace.

Now, your work sits in someone else’s inbox, dying a slow and painful death awaiting approval. The clock ticks and the gnawing feeling of helplessness starts to creep in.

We’ve all felt the sting of waiting in our work; it can strip us of our usual drive and decisiveness.

Yet, there’s an age-old saying: “Patience is the currency of the wise.” This simple sentence suggests a hidden power within the act of patience. It implies that those who navigate challenges with resolve and reason possess a unique kind of wisdom, perhaps even a strategic advantage. Could it be that the difference between merely waiting and embracing patience is something that sets successful leaders apart, and by adopting this approach, leaders can enhance their strategic advantage?

The Subtle Difference

On the surface, “patience” and “waiting” might seem almost interchangeable. Let’s dive into their dictionary definitions to pinpoint the nuanced distinction:

  • Patience: The capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.
  • Waiting: The act of staying where one is or delaying action until a particular time or until something else happens.

Notice how patience underscores an internal ability: a tolerance and ability to manage one’s reactions. Waiting, on the other side, focuses on external circumstances and implies a degree of inactivity. This subtle shift in perspective has a huge impact on how we experience challenges within our work.

Powerlessness vs. Proactivity 

The state of waiting can be a creative and motivational killer. When we’re stuck in this mode, our minds become fixated on the external factor holding us back – that email notification, the upcoming meeting, the elusive client sign-off. This hyper-focus narrows our perspective and makes it difficult to generate fresh ideas or explore alternative solutions. Waiting breeds anxiety, leading to stressed and disengaged team members, and hindered collaboration. In the fast-paced world of work, waiting can feel like a lifetime, and it can have detrimental effects on teamwork and productivity.

Picture a marketing team awaiting crucial feedback from the company’s leadership. Days turn into weeks, and morale starts to dip. The team, unable to move forward with the project, feels their creative energy stagnate. This impacts the quality of their work and also strains internal relationships. Everyone is on edge!

However, patience offers a purposeful alternative. It reframes challenges as opportunities for taking action and regaining agency. While we can’t necessarily control external delays, we can control our response and how we use the time. And if we’re willing to explore them, there are typically a multitude of ways in which we can regain our agency and take steps while we’re waiting for a decision, approval or another event to trigger the action required to move forward.

Patience in Practice

Here are some ways that leaders can cultivate patience as a tool:

  • Define the Obvious Path Forward: Every plan will not go exactly as you architected. And yet, based on your organizational knowledge and relationships, you can likely see an “obvious path forward” that gives you a sense as to what’s next. So write that down! Without complete certainty, you can define logical and potential next steps and actions before you have the clear air to take those steps. It’s empowering to see and reflect on that when we’re feeling   disempowerment and uncertainty.
  • Communicate With Transparency: Set clear expectations and proactively update clients or stakeholders to ease anxiety and maintain trust. Rather than being passive or invisible during those times of patience. Afterall, “no news” is still news…so communicating that ensures your audiences know you’re engaged and willing to share all the information you can.

Remember, patience is not passive resignation. It’s the wise choice to stay engaged, look for alternatives, build an obvious path forward, and maintain team momentum even in the face of relentless uncertainty.

Where in your work do you feel most “stuck” in a waiting pattern, and what could a shift toward patience unlock? 

 How can you, as a leader, model patience and agency for your team to inspire a more proactive mindset? 

 What’s one small step you can take this week to practice intentional patience within a project or challenge? 

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