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I recently had dinner with a couple of family friends and their son, who’s around two years old. While we were sitting around and chatting, their son brought a toy over to his mom, which required the person playing with it to unhinge a mechanism to get it to open. It’s fairly straightforward and made for his age group, though it is meant to prompt some thinking to get to what’s inside. When he brought the toy over, I was expecting our friend to open and return it to him to mollify him quickly, but instead, she asked if we could pause the conversation for a moment.
She turned to her son and said, “You’re going to have to solve it if you want to open it.” This wasn’t the answer he was hoping for, and he pushed it in front of her again, insisting she open it. But she again said, “You can solve it, you can solve the problem.”
Though it took a few more minutes (and a little irritation from her son), he did manage to sit and open the toy, and when he did, his excitement was all the more palpable because he had done it himself. The way she handled the situation immediately resonated with me as a father, but as I thought more about it, I could also see the connection to my business. Being patient enough to let someone sort out a problem that you know they can — and will grow from — is key to leadership, mentorship and overall growth.
Like many things, patience is a habit. It is a skill that can and should be honed over . The good news is that patience can be practiced in almost every aspect of our lives.
Think about the times you’ve felt impatient sitting in traffic, struggled with the time it takes to come up with an answer, or had trouble with someone not comprehending what you’re asking of them, no matter how many times you do. I’m sure that if you think back over the last 12 hours, you can come up with a situation in which you could have practiced patience.
This can happen in many forms — for some people, it’s mindfulness and taking steps to bring themselves into the present moment. Other people practice radical acceptance, which involves coming to terms with something and fighting the urge to wonder how it could have played out differently endlessly. Some go as far as to actively tolerate being uncomfortable, seeking out situations in which they are forced to wait or even making a conscious decision not to scratch an itch.
When you pay more attention to it, you’ll notice that opportunities to sharpen the skill crop up far more often than you’d imagine. If you can commit even once a day to consciously make a note and be more patient in a moment, it’ll start coming naturally before you know it.
When you think about what patience really is, it’s the ability to stay levelheaded regardless of the situation or obstacle you’re faced with. If you’re leading a team of people, they’re relying on you to be the strong and steady captain of the ship who can safely steer them through the storm.
When something distressing arises, reacting immediately might mean you’re responding with pure emotion and therefore not making the decision you might under normal circumstances. It’s natural for emotion to get the better of us in any given event, but that doesn’t mean your next step needs to be controlled by them.
Having the patience to take a moment and process the situation will always help you with your next move, whether you’re handling a crisis, thinking through a business decision, or on a personal level, understanding someone else’s point of view.
As a leader, you are inherently a role model for those you lead. To gain the trust of those around you, you will need to show them that you’re capable of exhibiting self-control and handling what comes up, no matter what it is. This also applies to feedback and how you model your relationships with your employees. When someone makes a mistake, or you feel something should have been executed differently, displaying anger or lashing out can be a regrettable (but avoidable) mistake.
To err is to human, and the humans you’re in charge of want to know that the person they report to will react rationally and always keep an air of professionalism about them, especially when something goes wrong.
As I reflect on some of my life’s major successes, I can always find the part leading up to it in which patience assisted me in some way. Making it a priority and a strength can help you become a better leader and a better coworker, friend, or family member. There is an old Chinese proverb, “One moment of patience may ward off great disaster. One moment of impatience may ruin a whole life.” Next time the occasion arises, consciously choose patience and see where it takes you.