Why Patience Is a Virtue in Leaders

Aug. 16, 2016
Patience is too often overlooked as a leadership virtue, but these outstanding women prove how valuable it can be to effective leaders.

Patience is often thought of as a weakness when it comes to leadership, but anyone who believes this couldn’t be more mistaken. Our obsession with quarterly returns and instant gratification often prohibits us from being more patient and thoughtful when making business decisions.

In my book, Truth, Trust + Tenacity:  How Ordinary People Become Extraordinary Leaders, I discuss characteristics of leadership including strong communication skills, integrity, attention to detail, the ability to compromise, civility and respect. There’s one more that’s too often overlooked: patience.

Some of the world’s greatest leaders exhibited purpose, approachability, tolerance, independence, empathy, nurturing nature, confidence, and endurance (P.A.T.I.E.N.C.E.) Women leaders seem to be way ahead of their male counterparts when it comes to these traits. In fact, one study by Zenger Folkman reported in Business Insider concluded that women are more effective leaders than men. Why? They had to work harder for longer periods of time—they were patient out of necessity!

Purpose. Patient leaders understand that having a purpose—and sticking to it—is essential if you want meaningful change. No one illustrates this more than Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has led her country from intolerance to tolerance while ensuring Germany remains a key player on the world stage. Merkel said, "Purpose--not the leader, authority or power--is what creates and animates a community. It is what makes people willing to do the hard tasks of innovation together and work through the inevitable conflict and tension." 

Approachability. Patient leaders are open to change and understand the value in being accessible. Indra Nooyi, chairperson and CEO of PepsiCo, is known for writing personal notes to employees’ parents. She understands the strength of reaching out to people at a more personal level. Under her guidance, PepsiCo listened to consumer preferences and now offers more healthful products in addition to their tried and true staples. 

Tolerance. Tolerant leaders know that intolerance stunts growth, while tolerance powers it. Hamtramck, Michigan, has the distinction of having the country’s first majority-Muslim city council. Hamtramck has had its share of problems, not the least of which is dealing with the fear that comes with change. Hamtramck’s mayor, Karen Majewski, recognizes that by being tolerant and welcoming others, you can affect change in a positive way.

Independence. Patient leaders are independent and straightforward, and in some cases even defiant. Rosa Parks’ defiance on a bus fueled a movement that eventually led to passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Leadership evolves from all walks of life and from within each of us—it’s not reserved for CEOs or four-star generals.

Empathy. Being empathetic is a sign of maturity and confidence. Starting in 1946 when she first felt her calling, Mother Theresa and the sisters inspired by her helped thousands of destitute, ill and dying souls in Calcutta.

Nurturing Nature. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, is an example of someone who knows how to lead and nurture. She is a compassionate advocate of women’s rights who also moved Facebook toward profitability. Sandberg has been undaunted in her pursuit of equality in the workplace for women.

Confidence. Patient leaders are cool and self-assured—without being cocky and conceited. Malala Yousafzai, a 2014 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, exemplified this when she was shot, point-blank, by a would-be assassin. Exhibiting confidence and strength, Yousafzai has been unstoppable in her quest to secure educational freedom and equal rights for women around the world.

Endurance. The late Pat Summitt, a University of Tennessee’s women’s basketball coach, understood that thriving would take time, tenacity and endurance. Early in her career, Summitt washed her teams’ clothes and drove the van that took them to their games. She knew breaking down the barriers of the old boys’ club of college basketball would not happen quickly; she would have to endure.

We can learn many invaluable lessons by studying these leaders and how their patience led to triumph.

Ritch K. Eich, author, executive and retired navy captain, is a management consultant in Thousand Oaks, Calif., whose leadership contributions have been recognized by many organizations. Proceeds from his three books have been donated to important non-profit organizations. Eich has served on more than a dozen boards of directors and trustees. His Ph.D is from the University of Michigan.

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