Ever hear the saying ‘patience is a virtue’? I hear it most frequently from parents of 4 year olds when they’re trying to unhook their children from wanting it all, now, all the time. [I heard it a lot when I was a kid!] Disabusing little Freddie of the notion that he can’t just take his younger brother’s toy away from him is not something you can trust to logic!
Obscure but definitive pronouncements like ‘patience is a virtue’ can sometimes mystify him long enough that he’ll turn his attention elsewhere. At least temporarily!
And it certainly is true that you don’t always get what you want, so there must be some wisdom in finding a way to make peace with that notion. If having something called ‘patience’ is on the pathway to accepting limits, then I’m all in with that!
But if you’ve developed this virtue and you’re a patient CEO, how do you build a winning company? If you’re a patient CEO, how do you create a category killer company that annexes new territory on the competitive map? If you’re a patient CEO, how do you get your direct reports to find the extra something that makes them into the high performance team they all aspire to?
If you’re a patient CEO, how long do you get to keep your job – know what I mean?
On the other hand, when you hear ‘she’s impatient,’ you don’t look forward to meeting her, much less working for her. The notion of an impatient CEO is larded down with negative connotations, ‘bad juju.’
‘Hard on people’ …’not easy to work for’ …’given to fits’ …’can be impossible at times.’
People lurk in the hallway outside your office awaiting their ‘moment of truth’ with the boss and tell each other …’he’s in one of those moods; it’s not a good time …I wouldn’t advise asking for anything just now.’
There is something here worth pausing on though: I think impatience is a virtue for CEOs. I think there’s something called ‘constructive CEO impatience’ that has an important place on the roster of leadership competencies. I think it’s possible for CEOs to add this to their repertoire without becoming Attila the Hun.
Why is it necessary to get some of this and to get it right? Three reasons.
- First of all, the pace of play has accelerated. As digital technology has perfused all other technologies, and the playing field becomes increasingly global, competition has quickened for companies of all sizes. For startups, the pressure to scale up has never been more intense. New research on the current operating environment for startups by Al Ramadan, Christopher Lochhead and their colleagues at Play Bigger Advisors found that the IPO ‘sweet spot’ for recent startups is reached twice as fast as for those founded a decade ago.
The handwriting is on the wall for CEOs with large ambitions: Get big or go home. For those more normal ones of you in the fat part of the bell curve, the message is less urgent perhaps, but you undoubtedly feel the gravitational pull to grow bigger, faster.
- Second of all, your people feel this increased pressure in the field of play every day. They feel it, whether you convey it to them directly or not, and have to deal with it. The ubiquity of information and the pace at which it is refreshed creates buzz in their browsers and divebombs their inboxes. They can either get caught up in it and accelerate the spin cycle, or become numbed by it and drop off the pace, losing their buoyancy and drowning in a sea of download.
Either is dysfunctional, and not a place you want them to be.
- Finally, you have an opportunity to influence how they perform.Your job as CEO is not just to call the tune for your company – Where are we headed? Who will we serve? What will we offer? How will we win? – but also to set the tempo. How are we going to handle ourselves at work? How are we going to do this?
This is where constructive CEO impatience comes in.
You have the opportunity, dare I say the obligation, to set the tempo for work in your company. Every interaction with your team or those in your organization at large creates an emotional impact, has an emotional outcome. Everyone comes out of their interaction with you either demotivated, re-motivated or indifferent.
Which of these three outcomes do you choose? Demotivated is clearly not an option, and no CEO wants her people to feel indifferent about her. Indifference leads to under-performance, flight risk, retention worries, hiring challenges – yerrrgghhh. Indifference is the kiss of death.
Constructive CEO impatience means you find a way to make every one of these interactions motivating in some way, a net positive impact on your employee’s outlook and motivation to perform. Making advantage out of the opportunity inherent in these interactions should be part of your personal leadership game plan.
One CEO of a mid-sized company has a year-long educational course to introduce new managers to leadership. It culminates in a 1:1 meeting with him where each program graduate presents his or her learning. The CEO discusses the history of the company and his vision for its future, and conveys urgency – his ‘constructive CEO impatience’ – about getting there. Each new member of leadership has a seminal meeting with the CEO to help set his or her course for the future.
Another CEO of an early stage startup just finishing a large hiring spurt conveyed his constructive CEO impatience with 1:1 meetings in January with all employees, not just new ones. He used the meeting to explicitly link each person’s work to the overall company goals for the year and ‘infect them’ with his excitement about the company’s future.
These are instructive examples, but constructive impatience is not just for special meetings. Every interaction with your team or those in your organization at large creates an emotional impact, has an emotional outcome. Everyone comes out of their interaction with you either demotivated, re-motivated or indifferent.
What is your game plan for making advantage out of these moments of truth for your leadership?
Comments? I’d like to hear your thoughts. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org