Impatience As A Leadership Virtue

Impatience As A Leadership Virtue
“Patience is the support of weakness; impatience the ruin of strength”
~ Charles Caleb Colto

“Karin, we should be able to have this project done by the end of the year.” I listened impatiently as the team broke down the timeline, contingencies, and tasks. They were the experts, and the project involved heavy IT lift–never fun. I also knew they could do more.

My next words made us all cringe, “We just don’t have until the end of the year. What’s possible by October?” It turns out, quite a lot. They’ll nail it.

Impatience is seldom on the short list of leadership competencies. People don’t hire coaches to help them become more impatient. Patience is a virtue. Impatience gets more done. It’s my daily wrestling match.

Push Possibility, Inspire People

Impatience as a leadership virtue

Great leaders are impatient with…

  • possibility
  • the status quo
  • problems
  • stagnating results
  • naysayers
  • delays
  • time wasters
  • games
  • gossip
  • ?

4 Ways to Inspire Through Impatience

  1. Don’t be a jerk – Impatience only works combined with other important characteristics (e.g trust, humility, relationships). Understand the consequences of the pressure. Are you driving the team to extreme hours, or sloppy short-cuts? Roll up your sleeves and serve.
  2. Be patient when needed – Use impatience sparingly on what matters most. Inspire passionate urgency toward your vision. Cut some slack on the small stuff. Prioritize and back off other tasks as needed to make way for the sprint.
  3. Explain why – Urgency without explanation frustrates. Ensure the team understands how the urgency links to the bigger picture.
  4. Go slow to go fast – Take the time up front to think things through. Come out of the gate slow and involve the right players. Ask provocative questions.

Sure patience is a virtue; done well, so is impatience. Your thoughts?

Filed Under:   Energy & Engagement, Results & Execution
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.

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What People Are Saying

Seema Joshi   |   22 August 2013   |   Reply

Great post! Too much patience, or using patience as the cover for inaction is not uncommon. On some occasions, I have seen people try to use impatience. But they often forget point (3) and (4) you’ve mentioned which make it like riding rough-shod and ineffective, defeating the purpose! Developing a sense of urgency for high priority things and where there is an opportunity to be capitalized on, I think make great candidates to bring in some impatience!

Seema Joshi

letsgrowleaders   |   22 August 2013   |   Reply

Seema, So wonderful to have you join the LGL discussion. What a beautiful way you have of articulating the importance of the right kind of urgency.

Dave Bratcher   |   22 August 2013   |   Reply

This is fantastic! Nothing is more frustrating than built in extra time to make sure the deadline is met. Thanks for sharing the vaalue found in being impatient!

letsgrowleaders   |   22 August 2013   |   Reply

Dave, yup, we call that “sandbagging.” Thanks as always for enhancing the conversation.

Dan Rockwell   |   22 August 2013   |   Reply

Thanks for the shout out Karin.

Love the question, “What’s possible by October.”

letsgrowleaders   |   22 August 2013   |   Reply

Dan, thanks so much for your inspiration.

Veronica Smith   |   22 August 2013   |   Reply

This post is timely for me. I have been mulling over, as a small business owner, how my impatience can serve me and my business better. The 4 points you provide on framing how to do that are useful. Thank you!

letsgrowleaders   |   22 August 2013   |   Reply

Veronica, I’m so glad. Thanks for joining the LGL conversation.

Christy   |   22 August 2013   |   Reply

Wow! I have just practiced this in my school for a student that needed accelerated in Math and the high school and local math coordinator were putting up roadblocks. I would not allow their patience to derail what was best for the student and we were victorious! The points are excellent!

letsgrowleaders   |   22 August 2013   |   Reply

Christy, What a great story. Sometimes a little impatience propels us forward. Thank you for your comment.

Philip Oude-Vrielink   |   22 August 2013   |   Reply

I think that the healthy expression of any character trait is a virtue.

letsgrowleaders   |   22 August 2013   |   Reply

Phillip, what a beautiful way to state that.

sue bock   |   23 August 2013   |   Reply


Being a jerk is the fastest way to decreased productivity. Asking what’s possible and shortening the timeline in your example was brilliant. You threw down the gauntlet. A challenge can go a long way. Then look at the 2 months as contingency and tweak anything you need to.

Sue Bock

Ann Deaton, PhD, PCC   |   23 August 2013   |   Reply

Sounds like we are kindred spirits—I wrote a blog not long ago about the two kinds of impatience, one good the other not so much! You might enjoy seeing how much we both value impatience, at least when it’s done well by a leader.

letsgrowleaders   |   24 August 2013   |   Reply

Ann, Loved your thoughts on the two sides (sisters) of impatience. Thanks for sharing your post. I hope you will return and continuing to expand the LGL conversation.

Robert Evans   |   24 August 2013   |   Reply

Great post Karin. I look forward to reading more of your leadership insights.

letsgrowleaders   |   24 August 2013   |   Reply

Robert, thank you so much! I look forward to having you in the LGL community.

Jack Kelly   |   26 August 2013   |   Reply

As the owner of a small contracting company, I am on contract for most of my work. With in those contracts I have to complete projects within a given period of time. I explain to my crew and sub-contractors what the ultimate goal is and when it has to be completed. To accomplish this I set smaller daily and weekly goals for my superintendent. Every one knows that there is no room for error, so a sense of urgency is created. By doing this I have created an environment that has attainable goals without seeming to be impatient. My impatience will come out when we are not meeting those goals and WE then re-route our apporach. I like your points 3 and 4. Thank you.

letsgrowleaders   |   02 September 2013   |   Reply

Jack, That’s a great approach. Thanks for sharing.

Terri Klass   |   29 August 2013   |   Reply

I am impatient by nature, Karin, but always willing to slow down if need be. I agree that there is a dance between being impatient to move things along and being patient to make sure mistakes aren’t made and the deliverable isn’t compromised.

I try to listen carefully and get my facts straight before becoming too impatient. But sometimes, leaders need to guide by picking up the pace and clarifying the urgency and focus.

Thanks for giving us the green light to charge ahead!

letsgrowleaders   |   02 September 2013   |   Reply

Terri, Thanks so much. Great point about listening carefully and getting the facts straight..first.

Farhan Hafesjee   |   02 September 2013   |   Reply

Impatience with a positive connotation is a virtue of high achievers – surely ! However , if the system slows you down , doesnt allow you to keep/ maintain your pace , and sees through your aggression and deliberately work towards frustrating your ideas and not allow you to progress , because they cannot keep pace with your speed , what does one do is the question ….

letsgrowleaders   |   02 September 2013   |   Reply

Farhan, Hmmmm… great question…. running too far ahead doesn’t work, it’s a constant balance of checking in to ensure people are with you.

Derek Molloy   |   04 September 2013   |   Reply

Brilliant article and well articulated Karin.

Typically I am impatient with those who don’t deliver on expectations. Yet, I have found that the core cause of undelivered expectations, almost always is due to a lack of Clarification of the expectation itself.

Hense, Like and trust is key here! when we are sharing our vision utilizing our high definition verbal paint brush, then asking the team what do they see and understand the expectation to be.