A Primary Tool to Building Young Leaders: Patience


Patience is a virtue, and it's one that can radically change the outcome of a person's life. That's why it's so critical that young leaders learn to develop patience.

A rare and disappearing virtue in our lives today is patience. While there are many definitions, I see patience as the ability to wait for what we want; the capacity to delay gratification. Author Barbara Johnson says it’s the ability to idle your motor when you feel like stripping your gears.” It’s important for us, and for the students we lead, to develop it.

Dieter Uchtdorf reminds us in the 1960s, a professor at Stanford University began a modest experiment testing the willpower of four-year-old children. He placed a large marshmallow before them and then told them they could eat it right away or, if they waited for 15 minutes, they could have two marshmallows. He then left the children alone and watched what happened behind a two-way mirror. Some of the children ate the marshmallow immediately; some could wait only a few minutes before giving in to temptation. Only 30 percent were able to wait.

It was a mildly interesting experiment, and the professor moved on to other areas of research. But as time went on, he kept track of the children and began to notice an interesting correlation: the children who could not wait struggled later in life and had more behavioral problems, while those who waited tended to be more positive, better motivated, have higher grades and incomes, and have healthier relationships.

In our day of instant connection via TGIF: Texting, Google, iPhones and Facebook, waiting or enduring displeasure is a lost art. We have a Google reflex. I believe, however, patience is a powerful force in helping us to grow up. Darn it. I wish it wasn’t true. I hate waiting. For me, “wait” is a four-letter word. I don’t like waiting in line, waiting for reports, waiting on results, waiting on paychecks, waiting for customer service or for people. Good grief—today people pace in front of their microwave ovens for Pete’s sake! Yet, the ability to delay gratification is sure sign of maturity and a signal of healthy leadership. Why? Because WHEN we make a move is often as important as WHAT move we make. John Maxwell, taught me this well:

1. The wrong Action at the wrong Time = Disaster

2. The wrong Action at the right Time = Mistake

3. The right Action at the wrong Time = Resistance

4. The right Action at the right Time = Success

When young people learn to delay gratification, it sets them apart from their peers. They stop jumping at the first temptation or saying yes to every opportunity that comes their way. When leaders learn patience, it sets them apart from other leaders and enables them to do what is right—over the long haul—instead of what gratifies stakeholders now. Ultimately, waiting enables us to become who we are meant to become. So—this week, I plan to blog about research on how patience and impatience is impacting our students. Hang with me and join the conversation.

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