Despite what the leadership gurus say, leadership isn’t always about taking action. Often, leadership is about patience. Great leaders are patient. I’ve learned this lesson through much trial and frustration. Don’t follow my path, learn from experience. Be Patient.
Action Doesn’t Always Solve Problems
The fact that action doesn’t always solve problems still seems counter-intuitive to me. I enjoy fixing problems. I am constantly looking for the solution to the problems I face, and those faced by others around me. It is part of the value I give to those that work with me. But sometimes action is unable to fix the problem. Sometimes action makes the problem worse.
I once participated in a leadership test with a group of other leaders. We were given a situation and asked to decide what to do. Our decisions determined whether we would live or die – well at least if we were truly in that situation. No one planned to kill us if we failed the test. I’m grateful because I failed.
In the scenario, we were in a plane crash in the desert. We had a list of supplies available to us. The choice was between attempting to walk out of the desert and waiting for a rescue. I chose and convinced my group to choose to walk. No way we would wait. We would take action and save ourselves. The experts in this sort of thing told us we were dead. The groups who chose to wait got rescued. So much for taking action.
In Leadership, Patience Is a Virtue
Doing nothing is lazy. It’s the act of a coward. It’s what you do when you aren’t smart enough to know what action will get you out of trouble. At least, that’s what many leaders believe. Do something, anything. Don’t sit there doing nothing.
But, doing nothing may be the smart and courageous thing to do. Here’s why:
- It slows you down so that you can see the long view
- It creates opportunity for others to act
- It forces others to take responsibility
- It gives the problem time to work itself out
The problem with decisive action is that it limits our ability to think strategically. When you take bold action without delay, you limit the intake of information. You assess the immediate problem and the immediate choices available, and you choose. Unless you are a practiced leader your choice will be shortsighted and tactical.
When you slow down you allow time to process and receive more information. In turn, you make more informed and strategic decisions. The result is a better outcome with a positive long lasting impact.
Patient Leadership Empowers Others
One of the greatest faults of leaders is the tendency to rob people of the opportunity to grow. Lack of patience is one sure way to take part in this fault. If you always make the decisions, others won’t learn to make them. This stunts their development and hinders your ability to move on and up in the organization.
Imagine a team with only one person able to make decisions – you! Everyone looks to you before doing anything. What do you think the chances are that you will be able to move on to something with more opportunity and potential reward? I’ll tell you. Very little. Who will make the decision when you’re gone. You know the answer and so does your boss. That’s why she won’t let you move on.
If you care about your people you will help them learn to make decisions. If you’re interested in getting promoted you’ll do what it takes to develop people who can take your job. To do both of these things, you have to stop making all the decisions and patiently wait for others to take responsibility and act.
Sometimes No Decision is a Good Decision
This might sound incredible, but not every problem needs to be solved. Not every email needs a response. Some decisions are better off left unmade.
Sometimes my daughter to comes to me with a “MAJOR” problem. The world is ending, and I need to make a decision to help her fix it. Sometimes I agree and go to work to help save the world. At other times I delay a decision and wouldn’t you know it, the world doesn’t end. In fact, the problem goes away. No decision was necessary.
The beautiful thing here is that my daughter is learning to not blow things out of proportion. Many leaders would lead better if they learned that lesson too.
So patience truly is a virtue. It is not the passive response of a lazy coward. It is the courageous act of a wise leader. So, be patient today.