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Leadership

Patience Brings Tangible Benefits to Management

Research shows patience has a positive effect on creativity and collaboration.

Key points

  • Planning, leading, organizing, and controlling are often considered the “big four” attributes needed for management success.
  • Less emphasis has been placed on a more psychological, intuitive approach.
  • New research shows that a patient management approach can improve employee creativity and collaboration.
Kristin Hardwick / Stocksnap
Source: Kristin Hardwick / Stocksnap

When I was in business school about six centuries ago, I remember there was much animated discussion around the big four attributes needed for management success. They went by the not-so-euphonious acronym of PLOC: planning, leading, organizing, and controlling.

I have nothing against these skills; they're definitely part of the management equation. All managers do need to maintain control and get things done. But the big four by no means tell the whole story. Their general drift emphasizes the active, forceful orientation popular in the day, as opposed to, say, a more psychological, intuitive approach.

As an example, in 16 B-school courses, I don't think I heard the word "patience" once. This is why I was recently interested to happen across a Harvard Business Review article titled "Becoming a More Patient Leader," including research and data on the tangible benefits patience brings to management.

Creativity and productivity

A Georgia Tech professor, David Sluss, had done a survey of 578 working professionals, probing their "immediate supervisor's leadership behaviors and level of patience" and carefully examining the effects it had on them.

His conclusion: "Their responses revealed that patience had a powerful effect: When leaders demonstrated it (meaning their employees’ ratings put them in the highest quartile), their reports’ self-reported creativity and collaboration increased by an average of 16% and their productivity by 13%."

In short, the employees were clearly responding well in a variety of positive ways to a patient management approach.

Valuable addition

I wasn't surprised that management patience was being appreciated by those on the receiving end of it—that makes good sense—but I was pleased to see that it was being thoughtfully studied, with hard data quantifying its multiple benefits.

My own experience over decades of management was that patience was indeed a very good thing; you could easily see employees responding well to it, just as you could regularly see employees reacting negatively to a more abrupt, irritated (impatient) approach. But these were just impressions, not research.

I don't want to sound Pollyanna-ish. I'm not suggesting that needs for leading, organizing, and controlling are insignificant. All patience and no control won't get the job done, either, at least probably not in the time frame you need it done by.

But it's hard to disagree with patience. It's just human nature: People like it, and they relate well to it. Employees don't like to be constantly barked at, whether by dogs or people.

So, good for Sluss for taking the time to dissect this everyday attribute we don't hear nearly enough about in business. I'm glad to see this kind of research out there. A healthy dose of patience is a useful addition to any management tool kit.

References

Sluss, D. (2020). Becoming a More Patient Leader. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2020/09/becoming-a-more-patient-leader

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