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?

7 Ways To Prevent False Urgency

False urgency can be lethal in organizations, and it become more toxic the higher it starts. Gravity exaggerates false urgency.

How You Are Unknowingly Creating False Urgency

Even if you are an empowering, enlightened leader, if you are the “boss” and you say “jump” (through your words or unintentional reactions), your team will likely start jumping.

Since it’s difficult to jump and do much else at the same time. The important work you really want your team to do gets put to the side.

And if YOUR boss reacts with false urgency and you start jumping they will likely jump higher or deeper.

More balls are dropped in all that jumping.

In fact your team may begin anticipating your reactions, and doing all kinds of jumping and gymnastics without being asked.

In many organizations, the whole urgent vs. important matrix is trumped when someone in authority has a need. Suddenly issues that would normally fall into the “urgent but not important” category become the most important.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

How To Prevent False Urgency

You can prevent false urgency by following 7 important guidelines.

  1. Build an environment that encourages constructive dissent. Give your team the authority to slow you down (see Give the Guy a Brake)
  2. Pause before reacting. Breathe. Work to manage your emotions and facial expressions
  3. Buffer your team from unrealistic urgency from above, learn to set realistic expectations around what is important (see Chaos Curtailed: How to Shield Your Team)
  4. Isolate the incident from the trend. Avoid the temptation to extrapolate one bad occurrence to an organization-wide problem
  5. Ask for the data you need, but not more than you need
  6. Ensure you understand what is being replaced by your urgent request is what you need really the most important thing
  7. Avoid the temptation to feed your ego. Ensure your team is working on what is important, not doing everything you say because YOU are important.
  8. ???

The headwinds are against you on this. Your team will want to please you. What may feel like satisfying action in the short-term may actually be undermining your long-term results.