Patience and “Not-Patience”: Leadership Choices

mom and dad

My mother was a classy and wise woman and in many ways, thoroughly modern.  Not only was she a beauty queen in college, a high school music and English teacher, an accomplished pianist and organist, leader of the church choir, loved poetry (a descendant of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow), but also the mother of four boys and a girl.  Any one alone is a great achievement, especially for someone born in 1915.  And it is a miracle she kept her sanity and sense of humour (with four rambunctious boys  to raise).  But her real gifts were “pearls of wisdom” to help us navigate life’s ups and downs.

And one of her favourite “pearls of wisdom” to us boys was:

Patience is a virtue.

patienceYoung boys live fully in the moment and having to wait for things, like Christmas or the opening day of fishing or hunting season, was excruciatingly painful. We wanted it NOW!

Fast forward to 2015. You and I live in a world where fast is the new normal and NOW is the only time that exists. Texts are instant and seem to demand instant replies. News from around the world flashes across pc screens and mobile phones as it happens.  And success in the highly competitive global marketplace is about getting their first. Today’s mantra seems to be something like:

Don’t wait for things to happen, make them happen.

The Good News and Bad News about Patience:

As I see it, patience has its place today more than ever before, and yet there are also times when patience is definitely not a virtue.  Let me explain.

Many good business strategies don’t get traction because management doesn’t wait long enough for the plan to develop and get traction.  At the first sign of negative results or a missed target, they convene a meeting to revise the plan.  Strategic plans take time for people to understand, time to replace old business processes with new ones, time for customers and suppliers to get on board.  Strategies are not overnight tactical manoeuvres.

A strategy only works if you stick with it

On the other hand, there are times when patience is definitely not a virtue, and is actually harmful to your company.  Here I am talking about corporate culture. We all know that a culture aligned with the strategy and that supports and grows people acts as a catalyst for achieving business success. And culture is made up of repeatable, everyday behaviours about how people deal with issues, treat each other and treat customers and suppliers.

So imagine the real life example of a VP overhearing a conversation among managers that goes something like this:

“I can’t believe those idiots in purchasing. They screwed up my order again, and it’s not the first time. Now the customer is yelling at me. The next time they want support from my department they can forget it!”

Heard that one before, or something similar? Definitely not the type of attitudes and corporate culture that makes for success.

Now comes the moment of choice:

  • patience on the part of the VP, don’t get involved, mention it to their direct boss whose job it is to manage that area?
  • Or act immediately, interrupt and use the opportunity as a “coachable moment” to talk about culture, accountability, blaming, and working together to fix the problem?

If you don’t get involved, you get the culture you ignore!

Patience, like many leadership skills is situational.  And leaders are paid to make choices!  Choose wisely.

Patience, persistence and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success.  ~Napoleon Hill

Thanks for joining the conversation.

John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog,  Business Books Website

Just published: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   
FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

PS: John also writes thriller novels 


About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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1 Response to Patience and “Not-Patience”: Leadership Choices

  1. Harriet Wadia says:

    Dear John,

    There seem to be two sides to all sayings. For example, ‘haste makes waste’ and ‘strike while the iron is hot’.



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