Only Patience Will Save Us

Patience isn’t given a lot of respect these days. Leadership books encourage Smarter Faster Better and The Speed of Trust and tell you How to Be a Kick-Ass Boss. But Leo Tolstoy was right when he said, “The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.”

We’re seeing in our country today how impatience is killing us. Leaders rushing to re-open the economy are slowing down our recovery and costing precious lives. Businesses champing at the bit to open up become new epicenters of death. Every attempt to speed up the rate of return to schools is countered by statistical projections of how the death toll would rise.

Political leaders time their announcements to meet the day’s news deadlines. They frequently raise hopes by making promises they are in no position to keep. All of this whittles away Americans’ trust in their government leaders. Impatience is killing us.

My new book 30 Days with King David: On Leadership lifts up 14 key traits of leaders. As it follows the arc of David’s story, the very first trait David shows is patience. It is what we need most right now.

The Biblical account of David opens in 1 Samuel 16 with his unexpected anointing as the future King of Israel. Samuel, who is in essence the chaplain of the royal court, is sent to David’s family’s farm to anoint the son God tells him. God has Samuel skip over David’s 7 older brothers and finally call in David, the skinny 12-year old out tending the sheep. Samuel anoints the boy, young David – and then leaves. The next day David is back out with the sheep.

And then what? We wonder what David does with that unique calling. How does his mind make sense of his God-given destiny while he still has years of sheep to tend?

I suggest that the first character trait David cultivates is patience. He has to learn to let God’s plan unfold in God’s own time. He has to wait. It’s not do-nothing, thumb-twirling waiting, though. It’s dreaming and planning, learning and listening, envisioning and preparing, keeping his awareness sharp and his faith alive. David has work to do. That work is Patience.

Patience is challenging work for all leaders. Leaders are praised for quick results and speedy solutions; the pressures to act fast are strong. But impatience leads us to overlook critical data. Impatience causes us to ignore unintended consequences. When we are impatient we ignore important voices, and we crunch the numbers that don’t easily fit.

Short-term impatience rarely leads to long-term excellence. In extreme cases, it can literally kill us.

David’s story as a leader begins by showing us the character trait of patience. In each of the major events of his life – I focus on 14 of them – David draws on or develops a character-based strength. Sometimes he’s a model for how we can cultivate that strength, that virtue, to develop our character as leaders. And sometimes he’s a model for what NOT to do! By success and failure, David can instruct us that character, not technique, is the key to effective leadership.

Similarly, if we attend to developing our character, we will play a unique leadership role in our world.

A challenging place for leaders today to start, then, is with patience. Start as 12-year old David did: with curiosity and imagination, with wonder and listening, and with prayer. Practice mindfulness. Read. Review your internal procedures and your decision-making structure. Identify future leaders. Build relationships. Plan. Sketch out ideas. Get a coach.

Do some of those things you didn’t do back when you said, “I wish I had time for that, but I don’t” – because now you do.

Slow down. Listen. Think. Practice patience.

Only then will you and I, like David, be able to Lead With Spirit.