Grooa Newsletter

How patience can sabotage Leadership

Finally! Where I currently live – Northern Europe – spring comes much later than what I remember from my upbringing on the Mediterranean sea, so every year around April I grow quite impatient, why is spring not coming?

Which brings me to a topic that frequently puzzles me: how we deal with our patience/impatience.

I think this is a relevant topic to consider, because our “patience management” can affect our relationships and our ability to productively collaborate with others, both at work and at home.

Let me give you two extreme examples.

Example 1: Imagine you are attending a meeting, not a sterile and boring status review, but a real working meeting when the relevant people get together with the stated intention of solving an issue or making a key decision. Imagine that the organiser is a super-patient person, kind and full of empathy, who listens to everyone without interrupting, welcomes every contribution, never challenges any ideas, and gives plenty of time to endless brainstorming and sharing, with no apparent time concerns, nor any urge to summarise the insights or advance to a conclusion.
Will it be a productive meeting?  Probably not.
Lots of shared ideas, but also a lot of confusion. Maybe the participants will grow bored or weary and the conversation will die before any conclusion is reached. Maybe the meeting will be adjourned to continue another day. Maybe finally someone will jump in, cut to the chase, and offer their one-sided option; and the rest will agree by default and exhaustion. As the team moves on to try and implement whatever was discussed and vaguely understood, they will still be unfocused, resulting in contradictory actions, duplications and misunderstandings along the way.

Example 2: Imagine a second scenario: same type of problem-solving / decision-making meeting, but this time the organiser is a super-impatient person, a charismatic and passionate achiever, who holds a tight schedule. Interventions and inputs by others are invited, but allotted a very tight time frame. The organiser follows a strict agenda, asks very specific yes/no questions, swiftly evaluates every suggestion with an eye on the watch, dismissing ideas that are too far fetched to be dealt with right away, making vague promises that the team could revisit certain aspects at a later point in time, and hastily plowing though the key points, to bring the meeting to the most obvious and largely predictable conclusion.
Will it be a productive meeting?  Probably not.
There will certainly be a clear path ahead, allowing the team to focus on some specific actions, but the engagement level might be low and many will switch to a purely reactive execution, holding their concerns for themselves; some will also hold their tongue about alternative ideas which could benefit the business, because they have given up being heard.

Can you imagine those two scenarios? You have probably experienced something similar. Maybe you have been one or the other type of organiser at times?  I certainly have; both as dissatisfied meeting participant with a too-patient/too-impatient organiser, and as patient/impatient organiser myself.

Actually, there is nothing really wrong with either scenarios. Except for two factors.

First of all, there is the question of intention.  Even when we have the same intention as to “why” we are having a meeting (solve a problem or make a decision), the “how” does not seem to be openly on the table. For example: are we tackling an urgent or risky situation, hence we must be swift? or are we debating a sticky, maybe reoccurring issue, for which we need to have a really thorough conversation? This is about setting and sharing strategic expectations.

Second, there is the question of choosing behaviour based on awareness of impact.  Did you notice that in the two examples I mentioned that one organiser is super-patient and one is super-impatient?  You might have recognise this as a clue.
Whenever we behave in a certain way, without questioning our initial assumptions and the impact on others, we are acting unconsciously. Does this mean that we do not think about it? Of course not, most of the time we actually think about it, but we tend to create a narrative in our head that appears to make sense, that justifies our instinctive choice once we add some kind of logic around it. Unfortunately, we often forget to play devil’s advocate with our own assumptions and logic.

Thus, the ones who are naturally patient, or have a strong feeling that patience is needed, might create a narrative in their mind that goes like this: “Other people need to feel welcome to share their opinions and valued when their opinions are heard, so it would be wrong to question their ideas. I am a very good leader when I keep the discussion open and make sure that all opinions are collected. I do not like to offer my own conclusion, it would be wrong to give them the impression that I do not respect them. I do not want to be dictatorial, I am a patient person and I offer my empathy, they would be upset if I challenged them, so I will let the team find their way on their own. ”
– Do you notice how the train of thoughts is focused on self-judgment (I am right as I am, the opposite would be wrong)?
– Do you notice how there is an assumption made about the inability of others to deal with their ideas being challenged (they would take my questions as disrespectful)?
– Do you notice that there is a lack of trust? This may seem counterintuitive, but when we expect others not to be able to tolerate disagreements, or to be focused more on defending themselves and their own ideas rather than learning and merging different perspectives, we are not as kind and empathetic as we believe we are; we are distrustful. And when we withhold our own conclusions for a misplaced sense of generosity, we are actually withholding our own contribution.
– Do you notice that the needs of the business and the impact on other people are not part of the narrative?

Similarly in the opposite case. The ones who are super-impatient might justify their instinctive anxiety and sense of urgency for quickly  progressing towards a clear path to achieving, by telling themselves that this is the right way leading effectiveness.  I let you imagine the complete narrative.

I think you get my point by now: both extremes can be ineffective, because the focus of attention is on being right rather than on co-creating a useful outcome.

When we learn to shift focus to the impact we are having on the group discussion, we can more easily see that both passive listening and constant interruptions are equally unproductive. And, also importantly, when we forget to trust that others are fully capable of contributing and co-creating without getting defensive, we actually bring a negative impact – a detriment to the group abilities.

Personally, I believe that leadership is all about impact. It is about activating the collective energy, capitalising on the shared learning, creating a space where we dare to challenge each other’s ideas to serve the common intention, not a space where we challenge the individuals, but a space where we trust our collective ability to think critically. In his book about the five dysfunctions of a team, Patrick Lencioni tells a compelling and inspiring story of how trust allows productive conflicts leading to shared ownership and mutual accountability. In her book about collective genius Linda Hill talks about the value of offering your own ideas with relentless passion, while allowing “abrasion time” to challenge each other ideas in order to co-create improved outcomes.

All valuable insights from these highly recommended books, but how do we – in practice – learn the skills necessary to bring clarity of self-awareness, manage our instinctive emotions, listen actively without attacking the individuals and field productive conversations towards an engaged alignment that can unleash the collective talents towards extraordinary outcomes?

At Grooa, we offer our signature “CLEAR Mindset” methodology to help learning those skills in a number of context, Strategy Facilitation, Leadership Development Training, Executive Coaching, Mindful Coaching and free online suggestions.