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Developing Patience for Tomorrow

Updated: Oct 10

Our next article is from John Hartrich, an active-duty Army Major currently serving at Fort Bragg, NC. He has served in multiple operational and institutional formations, including the 2nd Infantry Division, 101st Airborne Division, XVIII Airborne Corps, the Combined Arms Center, Army Materiel Command. Tune in to his words about patience.

The world continues to become more dynamic and interconnected, increasing in speed and complexity. Tomorrow’s leaders are developing the skills and attributes that will enable them to leverage machine learning and artificial intelligence to make challenging decisions faster. Fog and friction will increasingly obscure our vision as the demand and pace for information continues to increase, necessitating a critically undervalued and perishable skill – patience. Within the on-demand economy, patience is becoming unnecessary; when decisiveness and initiative are highly encouraged and celebrated, patience appears counterintuitive. Leading with and emulating patience can have a direct and immediate impact on subordinates and is crucial to fight through the fog and friction of the complex world.

When describing patience, a common visualization is that of parents with their children. We can all recall different scenarios where we or our parents maintained or lost patience. However, this image or example does not translate outside of our families and becomes less relatable moving in our workplaces and daily interactions. The constant improvement in access to on-demand services and instant-gratification is making us more impulsive [1], eroding the need and development of patience-creating habits. This is especially worrisome for Millennials and Generation Z, who are more connected to their devices, have higher demands on real-time digital communications [2], and were brought up with the world as non-linear and complex [3]. The implications of declining patience are starting to manifest as these new generations have begun to enter the workforce.

Millennials and Generation Z are entering as new Soldiers and Officers and operate at the direct level of leadership [4]. This echelon of leadership represents a foreign environment to these younger generations, where daily face-to-face interactions are necessary to convey purpose, intent, and achieve success. However, the increased use of digital communications can create the feeling of hyper-connectedness and lead to burnout [5], manifesting in multiple ways including exhaustion, negativism, or cynicism [6]. Lower thresholds for patience can also increase negativity bias [7], which inclines leaders to default to negative reinforcement as motivation. The effects and consequences each of these appear consistently at ArmyWTF Moments or the Duffel Blog. Army doctrine, including FM 3-0 Operations and ADP 6-22, Leadership and the Army Profession, patience is only mentioned collectively six times, and is not defined in either; while decisiveness, initiative and innovation are mentioned 218 times [8][9]. When contrasted with decisiveness and the need for instant gratification, patience may be perceived as weakness [10], however, we need to better define patience to actualize and unlock the potential of future generations.

Clarifying our definition beyond a familial metaphor, patience is defined as the ability to bear pains or trials calmly or without complaint, or to remain steadfast despite opposition, difficulty, or adversity [11]. Patience is the action of remaining calm and executing rational judgment under duress or delay [12]. This expanded definition highlights that patience is a critical leadership attribute, neither timid nor indecisive, and is a critical element for resilience. Patience is necessary to execute and complete the most difficult and grueling tasks. There are multiple historical examples where leaders have displaced strategic and operational patience, waiting for the critical opportunity to act. President Lincoln faced stiff opposition for issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, following multiple losses by the Union Army and objections from his Cabinet staff and the border states. Undeterred, Lincoln waited patiently and seized the opportunity following the Union victory at the Battle of Antietam, announcing the Emancipation Proclamation. Similarly, President Theodore Roosevelt displayed similar patience in resolving the Coal Strike of 1902. Roosevelt faced stiff internal and external opposition to presidential intervention, notwithstanding his desire to act immediately. However, he exercised patience and assessed various options over a six-month period. When the most opportune scenario emerged, Roosevelt was precise and decisive in ending the strike [13]. Each President exercised patience, remaining resolute in the face of challenges from advisors and opponents alike. Historically patience was more innate, necessitating the need to teach and model patience today.

There are multiple strategies and techniques that leaders and mentors can utilize to improve patience. First, leaders must create time to engage in deliberate and rational thought. In the previous examples, each president made conscious efforts to dedicate the time necessary to make informed and coherent decisions. President Lincoln would write and throw away letters venting his frustrations regarding the pace of the Union Army, prior to making critical operational decisions [14]. Second, leaders need to set clear and sustainable expectations regarding the speed and pace. Hyperconnectivity has increased the expectations for responsiveness while lowering our tolerance for delays [15]. Subordinates can become cynical or burned out when there are constant demands placed upon them. Additionally, leaders need to distinguish the differences between “operational speed (moving quickly) and strategic speed (reducing the time it takes to deliver value)” [16]. Executing a properly timed tactical pause allows subordinates to assess whether the necessary conditions are set prior to acting. President Roosevelt understood the conditions of the coal strike and waited until the correct opportunity to take the initiative, rapidly ending the workers strike [17]. Third, leaders can increase their patience through gratitude. Research has demonstrated that there are positive relationships between being grateful and increased patience and feeling sadness and increased impatience [18]. During challenging or stressful events, leaders can build patience through acknowledging the contributions and actions of their subordinates. Lastly, leaders can develop patience through role modeling and demonstration. Being patient is one of the most effective ways to enhance subordinate and peer collaboration and productivity [19]. Moreover, patient leaders are more effective at developing subordinates, understand broader conceptual skills, and are better at improving their organizations [20]. Simply being a patient leader cultivates and creates future patient leaders.

The scope, scale, and responsiveness of on-demand technologies will continue to erode historical sources of patience teaching activities. Patience is a perishable skill that must be observed, taught, and practiced prior to reaping any benefits. Practicing patience is crucial to make well-timed and rational decisions in the increasingly complex world. Leading with patience creates immediate benefits in our organizations and with subordinates, opening untapped potential for collaboration and achievement. Setting sustainable priorities, communicating expectations, and expressing gratitude are all ways that we can practice and develop patience. We can and must act decisively, but it takes patience to set the proper conditions and see difficult decisions through. Creating lasting and impactful change in the dynamic and ever-changing environment necessitates leading, following, and deciding with patience.

[1] Wilmer, H.H., Chein, J.M. Mobile technology habits: patterns of association among device usage, intertemporal preference, impulse control, and reward sensitivity. Psychon Bull Rev 23, 1607–1614 (2016).

[2] Petrucci, T., Rivera, M.; Leading Growth Through the Digital Leader. Journal of Leadership Studies, Vol. 12: Number 3 (2018)

[3] Valintine, F. (2019). Educating Gen Z in a digital world. Evaluation Matters—He Take Tō Te Aromatawai, 5, 6-21.

[4] Army Doctrine Publication (ADP) 6-22, Army Leadership and the Profession (Washington, DC; GPO 31 July 19) 1-22

[5] Sharma, M. K., Anand, N., Ahuja, S., Thakur, P. C., Mondal, I., Singh, P., ... & Venkateshan, S. (2020). Digital burnout: COVID-19 lockdown mediates excessive technology use stress. World Social Psychiatry, 2(2), 171.

[6] ibid

[7] Cherry, K. What is the Negativity Bias?

[8]Field Manual 3-0, Operations (Washington, DC; GPO 13 October 22)

[9] ADP 6-22 (31 July 19)

[10] Eich, Ritch (2017) "Commentary: On Patience in Leadership," The Journal of Values-Based Leadership: Vol. 10: Iss. 1, Article 8.

[11] "Patient." Merriam-Webster, 2022. Web.

[12] Barbian, T. The Skill of Patience. Columbia Metropolitan Magazine, June 2017;

[13] Goodwin, Doris Kearns. Leadership. Narrated by Beau Bridges et al., Simon &Schuster, 2018. Audiobook

[14] ibid

[15] Sharma, M. K., Anand, N., Ahuja, S., Thakur, P. C., Mondal, I., Singh, P., ... & Venkateshan, S. (2020). Digital burnout: COVID-19 lockdown mediates excessive technology use stress. World Social Psychiatry, 2(2), 171.

[16] Sluss, David (2020) Becoming a More Patient Leader.

[17] Goodwin, Leadership.

[18] DeSteno, D., Li, Y., Dickens, L., & Lerner, J. S. (2014). Gratitude: A Tool for Reducing Economic Impatience. Psychological Science, 25(6), 1262–1267.

[19] Sluss, (2020) Becoming a More Patient Leader.

[20] Field Manual 6-22, Leader Development (Washington, DC; GPO 30 June 2015)

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