How Leaders Can Cultivate Patience in an Impatient World (2020)

Manfred Kets de Vries

Patience is one of the more difficult challenges of being human

The whole world is waiting for a coronavirus vaccine so that life can get back to normal. It feels like all of us are characters in Waiting for Godot. But unlike Samuel Beckett’s play, where the protagonists are waiting for something that probably will never happen, we can expect that a cure will be found. Until that time, much patience will be needed.


The pandemic has made us realise that patience is one of the more difficult challenges of being human. In more ways than one, the coronavirus has dramatically transformed our lives – and not necessarily for the better. For many of us, “cabin fever” has raised its ugly head, contributing to various mental health problems. Some of us may even have been quite sick, had a brush with death or had someone close to us die. It has been difficult to remain calm, cool and collected.


In our world of overnight delivery, fast food and overall instant gratification, many of us don’t even give ourselves the time to read a novel. Instead, we prefer to read short articles or watch YouTube clips. When our needs aren’t met immediately, we become frustrated.


Stress elevates our cortisol levels and triggers our flight or fight response. Impatience can transform leaders into agitated, poor decision makers. It can harm our reputation, damage our relationships and escalate already difficult situations. In sum, impatience is a root cause of much unhappiness in the world today.


Three types of patience


By contrast, what is patience? It is the ability to stay calm in the face of disappointment, adversity or distress. Having patience allows us to better process challenging situations. It helps us sort out our thoughts and bring our feelings under control. Patience reduces the risk of angry outbursts. It helps us not to resort to snap judgments, improving the quality of our decisions. Patient leaders have better relationships with their colleagues, friends and family.


Social psychologists differentiate between three kinds of patience. There is “interpersonal patience,” referring to the ability to face annoying people with equanimity. There is “life hardship patience,” which is the patience to overcome serious setbacks in life that are more of a long-term nature (like waiting for the outcome of a medical treatment or a possible job promotion). Finally, “daily hassles patience” refers to how we deal with trivial things, like getting stuck in traffic or facing long queues at the supermarket.


For those of us who weren’t born with patience, the good news is that patience can be learned. Some, without realising it, have already had the opportunity to practice their patience by becoming parents. Whatever the case may be, here are nine ways to exercise your patience muscle to improve your life and decision-making abilities.


Discover your patience triggers   


Your triggers could be specific people, situations or even certain words. Look for physical indicators suggesting that something has set you off, such as fast breathing, muscle tension and hand clenching. A sudden mood change can be another indicator. Recognising your impatience triggers is the first step before you can move on to some of the practices mentioned below.


If you are interested in learning more about this topic:

  • KDVI will be running a 6-week open enrolment programme entitled Creating Healthy Cultures for New Ways of Working
  • We have listened to current leaders needs and have also developed 4 virtual services for individuals and for organisations. 
  • We are designing bespoke client-specific programmes for organisations who wish to take a proactive approach to the transformations they are experiencing. Enquire here for more information.

INSEAD Knowledge, 2020

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