The Dichotomy of Patience in Leading Change

March 25, 2020

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How important is patience if you are leading change, whether it is some massive organizational change or being point on continuous improvement efforts?


If you have led any significant level of change and been in the line of fire so to speak, you know how trying it can be at times. From facing resistance from others who aren’t bought in, to organizational complexities that add red tape, to leadership above you that may have different ideas or may not be fully aligned themselves. Leading change or improvement can be taxing on you mentally and definitely test your patience.


I would say you absolutely need a healthy amount of patience to be a change agent. But what exactly is patience? According to Oxford, patience is “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.”


patience as a lean managerWow, there is a lot there to unpack and most of that could fit into a role description for change agents or lean managers. You almost always encounter over time some types of delays, problems (“trouble”) in the form of roadblocks or resistance, and the combination of these leads to some degree of suffering (LOL). So as a change leader, you have to develop that “thick skin” as we refer to, which includes a healthy dosage of patience. Consider this a key attribute you need or a skill to build if something you are not strong in.


But how much patience is too much is another nagging question? Like many things in life, there is a dichotomy with patience as well. You are supposed to lead and drive improvement, your supposed to be pushing others, and while having the patience of a Saint is admirable and helpful, having too much and cutting too much slack can slow things down and bring progress to a crawl. It can also make you a “victim” of comfort zones and status quo if you are not careful. Drift too far into the zones of great patience and you put at risk doing what you are supposed to do: drive change.


We cannot let patience mutate into acquiescence or passiveness to the point where heavy compromises are being made and people are not being pushed enough to think and do things differently. As a lean or change leader, your job is to push others out of their comfort zone to grow. Obviously, you need to be a little aggressive to do this effectively, but we need to balance the patience and do so in sometimes diplomatic or influential ways. Make no mistake, your emotional intelligence skills matter here.


So while patience is a great virtue and absolutely needed as a change focused leader, you have to balance that with an aggressive drive to continuously improve. In the dichotomous look, it is actually balancing patience with impatience, or more importantly, knowing when to be patient and when to be impatient and a bit more aggressive. Knowing when to “pick your spots” so to speak is the real key and ultimately, this comes from experience and maybe some good on the job mentoring.


Just know that balanced patience and impatience are both needed for the effective change leader. If you struggle with these, it is definitely something to develop and the subject of a future Elevate series. Knowing when to be patient or impatient is something to build on and using your EQ skills to handle the impatient “pushing” with tact.


How would you grade your patience as a leader?


effective leadership


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