I’m assuming you have all seen the framed posters companies display in conference rooms, coffee bars, and other common areas intended to inspire and motivate employees. Often, they describe the mission, vision, strategy, core values, and/or aspirational competencies celebrated by the organization.
Question: have you ever seen an organization feature patience as one of its keys to success? It occurred to me recently that not once in my career had I seen patience esteemed as a virtue in my own organization or others.
Patience is a virtue.
Piers Plowman by William Langland, 14th century.
The famous quote “patience is a virtue” comes from a poem written in the 14th century which praises honest labor and hard work. In the 1800’s Leo Tolstoy wrote “The strongest of all warriors are these two – Time and Patience.” The Bible also includes multiple references to patience. What did these earlier civilizations already understand that we may be losing sight of?`
My hypothesis is that patience is not taught, valued, or rewarded in business. And maybe the hypothesis also applies more broadly to life these days. Now that I sit at the 30+ year mark for my career, and the 60+ year mark for my life, I wonder if that is a mistake?
Has our need for immediate gratification – of shareholders in business and of our own expectations in life – diminished our ability to exercise patience as a virtue?
With the benefit of hindsight, here are a few examples of how I have seen patience play out in life and business.
A few years ago, there were big shifts in the strategy, values, and roles at the company where I worked. The leader asked me for input on where I should report. I felt like I was a perfect fit for the new direction and I wanted a seat at the table. I was already seated at a very good table, but I wanted to be at “the” table to maximize my impact. I wrote a three-page justification for my preference, but after much thought I put my ambitions aside and told the leader to put me where I was needed. Over time it played out perfectly. Had I been given the seat I thought I wanted, I don’t think it would have served me or the organization well.
Throughout my career, I had the privilege of working with some very talented people. I often found myself providing feedback during performance reviews that went something like this… “You are naturally gifted, and you intuitively see where things are headed and what needs to happen next. Not everyone sees it as clearly and quickly as you do so you will need to be patient and bring the others along.” Leaders must meet people where they are and then help them move toward the future vision. Easy to say and harder to do for high achieving, driven, professionals.
On the personal side, my daughter, like so many her age, endured the Covid shutdowns and protocols during her early days of college life. It was challenging for an extroverted “people person” to live by herself, stay motivated, and manage her way through isolation and a scary world in a faraway city. She hung in there and kept moving forward. It was not until her junior and senior years that she hit her stride—finding lifelong friends and loving her university. In hindsight, she says it was all worth the wait, and she likes to remind her underclassman friends that it’s not a race.
Last but not least, it was a huge adjustment when our family moved to Oklahoma City from Houston in 2003. It seemed like we did not fit, and we spent the first 18 months longing to return. I ended up changing jobs and we decided to stay a little longer. To make a long story short, we will hit our 20-year mark as Okies in a few weeks. The longer we stayed, the more we grew to love this place, and now it is home for our daughter.
What do you think about patience as a virtue? In life? In business?
What examples do you have where patience paid off for you or others?
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