Oct
06

Patient Intolerance

by  Chad Balthrop  |  Change Management

Leadership, at it’s core, is about successfully managing the gap between our expectations and our experience.

Leaders look into the world with a conflicting sense of idealistic passion and frustrated discontent. There’s a problem to solve, a need to meet, a hill to climb, a job to be done, a world to change  – and we’re the ones to do it. We cast our vision, build our teams, make our plans and launch our dreams, but what happens next?

What happens when our expectations don’t match our experience? What happens when our vision runs head first into the brick wall we call the school of hard knocks? Budgets run short or one of our team members doesn’t follow through. The client changes the timeline or the software doesn’t cooperate. How we manage the gap between our expectations and our experiences is the truest test of our leadership. It’s also a function of patience.

Consider these thoughts on patience

  • Patience provides the margin a leader needs to adjust to the unavoidable. People will be sick, make mistakes, go on vacation or need rest. Equipment will fail. Holidays will happen. Plans that ignore the unavoidable aren’t really plans as much as fantastic exploits in failure.
  • Patience creates space; space to learn, space to understand, space to change your mind, space to correct, space to grow. Patience creates space for instruction to sink in and maturity to take control.
  • Patience is the calm assurance that comes from understanding that leadership is a process. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Patience is the virtue that separates good leaders from great.

But there’s more to see here. Between our expectations and experience is what we’re willing to tolerate and that’s the real leadership challenge. Imagine a continuum. On one end is what we expect – the vision we cast, the dream we have. On the extreme opposite end is our experience. In between is what we’re willing to tolerate. For some parts of the plan the distance between the three is very small. With other parts we can be more liberal. Because life is dynamic our scale may shift occasionally or be weighted more heavily toward one end or another. Regardless of how the scale is drawn our reaction to each section of the continuum is the same.

As we lead our team or influence our client it works like this:

  • Between experience and tolerance is correction.
  • Between tolerance and expectation is development.
  • And the quality that fuels the process? Patience.

Once we identify the pattern the application becomes relatively easy to see – but rather than spell it out I’m interested in your thoughts.

  • How do you plan for the unavoidable?
  • How do you balance your expectations with what you’re willing to tolerate?
  • How ‘patient’ are you with a team member who seems to live in a world of correction?
  • How do you challenge a team that performs ‘within tolerance’ to grow beyond where they are in order to meet or exceed expectations?
  • At what point does ‘patience’ become something ignoble? What happens when we use ‘patience’ as an excuse to avoid confrontation or lower expectations?
  • Is impatience ever an appropriate tool in a leaders arsenal?

For every leader there is a balance that must be maintained. It’s the balance of patient intolerance. It’s knowing when to push, when to pause, when to move up and when to move on. The world needs your vision. Don’t let impatience derail the dream.

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What People Are Saying

Mike Myatt  |  06 Oct 2011  |  Reply

Hi Chad:

This is one of the best posts I’ve read in recent times. You address a key point that simply eludes many leaders – how to put their arms around the expectation gap. However I think it’s also important to understand that patience is only a virtue when not confused with complacency or apathy. Not all problems, issues, or circumstances can or should be “corrected” and sometimes it takes a lack of patience to blow through to a better place. Tolerance can be both a productive and unproductive thing and smart leaders are capable of discerning between these two divergent positions. Great post Chad…

Chad Balthrop  |  06 Oct 2011  |  Reply

Hey Mike,

Thanks for the kind words. I agree that patience shouldn’t be confused with complacency or apathy. In Koine Greek the word is ‘hupomeno’ – it literally means ‘to remain under’. You might think of the phrase, ‘under these circumstances’. A leader has to ask the question, “How long am I willing to let my vision or organization ‘remain under’ these circumstances. Once that’s decided the rest is about execution. Complacency never identifies the problem. Apathy never drives toward a solution. Real patience identifies the problem and drives toward the solution either through correction or development. Thanks again for the comments…

Mike Henry  |  06 Oct 2011  |  Reply

Chad, great post. Very well thought out. We were joking the other day about patience. Almost nothing fixes itself. However the first mistake should be understandable and subsequent mistakes of the same type must cause a leader to examine whether or not the correction is effective. Eventually, if the same mistakes continue, correction must escalate. Patience creates an escalation. Stewardship and responsibility force a leader to create boundaries and eventually take more direct action to eliminate repeat mistakes. If we let people adjust expectations by poor performance, eventually poor performance become acceptable.

Thanks for the great post. Mike…

Chad Balthrop  |  06 Oct 2011  |  Reply

Hey Mike,

Great comments. Too often we use the word patience to mean something else. We take a noble word and use it to mask an ignoble action. I agree – we should foster a culture where mistakes are acceptable – once. But don’t waste anybody’s time making the same mistake over and over again and expect people to be patient with you or use patience as an excuse for poor performance – that’s just foolishness.

My biggest challenge with patience in leadership is that I want what I want when I want it and I want what I want right now! Thanks Mike!

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