Editor’s note: Veteran entrepreneur and investor Donald Thompson writes about leadership, entrepreneurship and equality every week for WRAL TechWire. His columns appear on Wednesdays.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Here’s the paradox about practicing patience as a leader: If you want your company to progress more quickly, you need to slow down the way you manage it. Practicing patience is harder than it sounds, especially in today’s noisy, 24/7 business market, but if you ignore this fundamental law of business physics, you will frustrate yourself and inadvertently decelerate your company. On the other hand, if you can infuse the power of patience into how you lead and manage your teams, you’ll achieve your business goals more rapidly. 

For instance, when you’re hiring and you need to find a new resource with urgency, it’s tempting to fill your open position with someone who is conveniently available and eager to get started. Even though you may consciously recognize that finding the right candidate depends on the quality of a hiring process, not its speed, it’s also common to prioritize speed over fit. Instead, practice patience. Slow down and gather more information that will help you determine if this individual can do the best possible work. Short-term contracts and freelance assignments are great ways to test a person’s skills, and they help you develop your capacity for patience. Moments like these help us grow as leaders and understand when we should apply speed and when we should press pause for greater outcomes.

Here, we’ll dive into the power of patience as a leadership competency and how you can better identify key moments when you need to slow down for your business to go fast. 

Patience is Power

In business and in life, frustrations are inevitable. They’re part of the process of everything we do, but somehow they still manage to surprise us. When people aren’t doing what they’ve agreed to do, or when objectives aren’t materializing as quickly as you expected, you can feel irritable, agitated or even undermined. You may quickly give up on someone who’s frustrating you or attempt to force a different outcome. While these are common human reactions, they’re unfortunately self-defeating for you, your team and your business. 

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Acting out of frustration can alienate others, activate feelings of rebellion, resistance, or helplessness, and bring out the worst in your team. As psychiatrist and author Judith Orloff describes it, “frustration is not the key to any door.” To flip this scenario in your favor, take a step back. Transform your frustrations into patience. And if you think that “being patient” is synonymous with being passive or resigned, shift your perspective to embrace patience as a leadership skill. It’s part of your emotional intelligence and will help you nurture a more inclusive, collaborative work environment in the long run. 

Think of patience not as resignation but as the active and intentional practice of stepping back, regrouping, and then making your move when you know the time is right. Your business will benefit when you can stay calm and centered, instead of acting impulsively. David Sluss, associate professor of organizational behavior at Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business, puts it this way “Leading effectively — especially during a crisis — takes patience. If you can’t retain your composure in the face of frustration or adversity, you won’t be able to keep others calm. When your direct reports show signs of strain, you need to support them, not get irritated.”

Your Need for Speed: Operational v. Strategic

To keep a competitive edge in the market, you may feel pressured by the constant drive to move faster and accomplish more. Before you charge ahead, it’s important to recognize the difference between operational and strategic speed. “Operational speed” means making a process move more rapidly (e.g. running the production line faster). It may generate greater results on a short-term basis, but overdoing things can lead to more errors and subsequent reductions in quality, value, and profits. 

On the other hand, increasing your “strategic speed” means pausing at key moments to ensure you’re on the right track. It means periodically removing yourself from working in the business so you can work on the business instead, improving the quality and efficiency of your processes instead of just pressing them to go faster. 

The good news is that studies have shown “slowing down to speed up” really works. In fact, according to Harvard Business Review and research from The Forum Corporation, companies that focused on strategic speed over operational speed averaged 40% higher sales and 52% higher operating profits over a 3-year period. In terms of corporate culture, they found that these higher-performing companies engaged everyone in designing the initiative — from senior leadership through frontline workers — were open to ideas and discussion, encouraged innovative thinking, and allowed their teams the time to reflect and learn before simply plowing ahead. That’s what strategic speed looks like in practice. 

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The U.S. Navy SEALs also use these methods and train their teams according to the core philosophy that “slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.” Over many decades of experience, they’ve found that clearly defining objectives up front and always operating in a patient, methodical manner helps them avoid strategic mistakes, reduces the need to course correct, and speeds up achievement of the mission. Some part of that may be that we act more rationally when we practice patience instead of chasing speed. 

How to manage and lead for speed

How can you put strategic speed in action at your business? First, remember that even though you obviously want to generate deliverables as quickly as you can, you don’t want lackluster, mediocre output. Often, fast + sloppy = slow especially if you don’t have the right procedures in place for your team to follow in order to move fast. Finding the right balance between high-quality work, speed and efficiency usually means taking ample time up front to define your intention (why), objectives (what) and process (how). Then, openly communicate those three elements in clear, standardized language to everyone involved. 

Also, remind yourself that solutions and strategies, once designed, still take time to learn and implement. When circumstances get stressful, you can avoid an out-of-order “ready, fire, aim” approach by engaging your team with the power of patience. For instance, when you are delegating a project, take time to clearly communicate instructions, name available resources that the other person can draw on, and tell them why this assignment is strategically important to the organization. With clear parameters and directions in place, you’ll see your team respond with greater creativity, collaboration, and productivity.

Business consulting legend Peter Drucker famously said that “management is doing things right, while leadership is doing the right things.” Both your management and leadership will benefit from an injection of patience. When your business is moving slower than you want, you may be tempted to look for a quick fix. Instead, use these suggestions to avoid the twin pitfalls of chasing operational speed and viewing patience as passivity. Keep calm, and apply the power of patience. What you’ll find is that slowing your leadership process down will help you speed your company up.

About the Author

Donald Thompson is an entrepreneur, public speaker, author, podcaster, Certified Diversity Executive (CDE) and executive coach. With two decades of experience growing and leading firms, he is a thought leader on goal achievement, influencing company culture, and driving exponential growth. He is also co-founder and CEO of The Diversity Movement, a results-oriented, data-driven strategic partner for organization-wide culture change through diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. Donald serves as a board member for several organizations in marketing, healthcare, banking, technology and sports. His autobiography, “Underestimated: A CEO’s Unlikely Journey to Success” will be available in 2022.