Growing Patience

As a leader, one of the hardest skills to maintain in today’s “do more with less” economy is demonstrating patience.  We face challenges everywhere we turn:

  • Inadequate budgeting for critical business needs;
  • Overwhelming workloads for the time allocated;
  • Working with inadequately trained colleagues upon whom we depend to be successful.

If our patience was only challenged at work, that would be enough but our lives are fraught with opportunities to lose our patience outside the office too.  Whether it’s paying bills with a shrinking paycheck, keeping track of our teenagers as their independence grows or sitting longer in ever-worsening traffic, our stress levels are increasingly characterized by our impatience.


ImpatientWomanCauses of Impatience

One of the common threads running through these moments is simply having to wait.  Waiting for someone else to complete a task.  Waiting for the light to turn green.  Waiting in line at Subway during a short lunch break.

In a business environment where we’ve likely been handed additional responsibilities as our fiscal belts have tightened, our impatience grows greater during times when we feel unproductive.

Our expectations of ourselves (likely driven by the expectations of others) feed the cycle of negative emotions in work cultures where putting out the latest fire seems like standard operating procedure.


Effects of Impatience

Think of some of the negative emotions and the stories you tell yourself when you feel impatient:

  • Anxiety – “I’m never going to get this project finished on time.”
  • Fear – “If I don’t get I.T. to agree to the customer’s specs, we’re going to lose this client.”
  • Anger – “Why in the world did Business Development tell the customer that we could meet this insane deadline?”

As these negative emotions perpetuate themselves, they begin to manifest in physical and behavioral ways that become visible to our peers, direct reports, customers and supervisors.

We start to lose sleep. Our immune systems become compromised as a result of the stress, resulting in more frequent illness. Our muscles tighten and pain increases.

Not only does this contribute to higher absenteeism and medical costs but our presenteeism (or as Daniel Goleman calls it “continuous partial attention”) drops as a result of increased multi-tasking in an effort to make up for lost time and multiplied responsibilities.

Herein lies the biggest challenge to business everywhere.

Impatience has been described as waiting in the future.  If that’s true, then patience is the ability to wait in the moment.


Mindful Solutions

Being patient means being able to accept things as they are in the present moment even if we don’t like it.  That is different than being passive or procrastinating because growing patience requires an active mind that is engaged and dynamic.

Patience means taking action and not pinning our hopes on the fulfillment of expectations.

The first step is to pay attention to how our impatience displays itself.  As leaders, we know how others take their cues from us. If we’re coming to work bleary-eyed from not sleeping or walking around demonstrating tension from our anger, we create the impression in others that impatience is an acceptable workplace behavior which, as we discussed above, subtracts from our employer’s ability to be efficient, effective and productive.

Critical to tamping down our impatience is the ability to distinguish between what we can control and what we cannot.

In those moments where we are paying attention to our manifestations of impatience, we ask ourselves if there’s something we can do to change the circumstances so that we can try to reduce our impatience.  If not, we simply notice how we’re feeling and behaving so that we do not create the wrong perception for others to emulate.

By paying attention to the little things we think, do and say and taking a breath at those moments, it allows us to get used to our sense of impatience and we can build on that.

Start simply: notice your impatience when you reach for a paperclip and it’s attached to seven others and you start shaking it, thinking that will dislodge the hangers-on.  Or when you get home and are overloaded with bags of groceries, the dog is jumping on you and the kids are yelling over each other, hoping to get your attention first.  In your impatience to bring calm to the situation, does your voice get louder?

CautionLightAdditionally, pay attention to the non-verbal signals you send out.  When you are feeling impatient, check your body language.  How are you sitting in your chair?  Are your arms or legs crossed indicating you’re not open to other opinions?  How is your eye contact with those with whom you’re interacting?  Do you notice any tension in your neck or shoulders (it likes to hide there!)?

By simply being mindful of our own reactions to our impatience, we begin to build an inventory of more patient responses that we want our work teams to model.

Rather than referring to your colleagues in another department as “jerks” and blaming them for the tardiness of completing the project, you might end up choosing to offer your assistance or encouragement instead and thereby building rapport and positive engagement amongst the team.

We also have the opportunity to plan our time in a way that allows us to be more patient.  One of the ways we blame forces outside of our control for our impatience is to use the oft-used excuse, “I just don’t have enough time.”  By not taking accountability for the ways in which we schedule our time, we feel better about ourselves as victims of our overloaded lives.

The fact is that we all have the same amount of time in every day and what we choose to accomplish during that time is truly up to us.

  • Schedule hour-long meetings for 50 minutes instead.  That gives attendees the chance to get to their next meeting on time, thereby decreasing the anxiety and impatience of whoever is waiting for them to be present in the next hour.
  • Mirabai Bush, who co-founded the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, loves to talk about “mindful email“.  She recommends that, prior to hitting Send on an email, we take three breaths and imagine the emotional responses of the receiver. By doing so, we will likely choose not to use email as a weapon of our impatience when it might otherwise be tempting.
  • Don’t just schedule meetings and transactional items on your calendar.  Prioritize those softer responsibilities that will build engagement within your team and reduce impatience. Put them on your calendar as you would a Department Head meeting (e.g., 10:00 – 10:20a: informal “coffee chat” in kitchen with Customer Service reps).

Finally, I want to share Ajahn Brahm‘s three most important questions when confronting our own impatience. If we can remember the answers to these questions, we grow our patience in the moment:

  1. When is the most important time?  Now
  2. Who is the most important person? The one you’re with
  3. What is the most important thing? Care

As Brahm cautioned us:

“When it’s cold, keep a warm heart.  When it’s hot, keep a cool head.”

For comprehensive training modules on leadership development topics such as this, please visit our Solutions page.




By eliminating our personal agendas and turning them into how we can learn from each situation and person, our negative emotions start to subside and our patience grows.

By practicing these mindful solutions, we cultivate compassion and patience

and our conversations start to move on to something more positive instead of frustration and impatience.


Mindful Follow-Up Questions

  • What are some of the critical areas in your role as a leader where patience is most necessary?
  • What opportunities do you have to practice growing patience at work or elsewhere?
  • How does impatience manifest itself in you physically and behaviorally?
  • Where do you assign blame that is outside your span of control?
  • How can you choose to grow your own patience in those moments?


  1. Lots of great info here, Erik. Patience means taking action and distinguishing between what we can control and cannot control are two (of many) extremely valuable points!

  2. Eric, thanks for a well thought out and informative piece of writing. Lots of easy tips that can be put into practice straight away and that really capture the essence of what it is to be mindful on a daily basis.

    • Thanks Alison!

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