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The substitute for New Year’s resolutions advocated by many self-help gurus is “the one word.” Instead of a flurry of resolutions for the New Year you embrace one concept – a behaviour or approach to leading your life – that can serve as a guide through the coming year. It’s an individual process, but if it were collective I would suggest the word of the year for Canadian managers should be patience.

Many people might counter that since March, 2020, they have been stuck in place and now want to take action. But being stymied is not the same as patience. Frustration is not forbearance. Besides, patience is not antagonistic to action. Sometimes immediate action is required but that’s probably less frequent than the culture and management norms of our era pretend. Patience can turn fruitless, premature, unsuccessful action into triumph. Perhaps that’s also rare, but it’s worth keeping in mind.

I come to patience thinking about burnout, which might well be the biggest issue facing organizational leaders in 2022. Gallup is warning the next global pandemic will be mental health. Indeed, it’s here now, the organization’s chairman and CEO, Jim Clifton, argues: Anger, stress, worry and sadness have been on the rise globally for the past decade and all reached record highs in 2020, the last year measured. Gallup is also finding that the percentage of managers who report being burned out “very often” or “always” is higher than that of the individuals they manage, and the gap is widening.

We count on managers for all the many important actions of our organizations – to encourage and steer it – but they are suffering, along with many of those they supervise. Kitchener, Ont.-based workplace consultant Jennifer Moss, in The Burnout Epidemic, says not only are people exhausted – “we’re beyond burnout,” she declares – but there is a troubling rise in cynicism toward organizations and leaders. She tells of a global accounting firm that recently offered everyone access to a meditation app but one executive interviewed complained there was no time to log in. “It’s just so ironic. Shouldn’t they make this place less stressful so I don’t need an app to calm down? It all feels tone-deaf,” the executive says.

There are, of course, many programs being offered at firms to address burnout. And more will be needed. But the important step is to acknowledge that workload is the prime cause of burnout according to leading observers. And that’s where patience can come in.

E-mail, texting, and Slack have created an immediacy hothouse. That has added to quarterly pressure from the stock market to get things done fast, fast, fast. We also live in a mechanistic, stimulus-response age, where we expect instantaneous results from actions, be it a response to an e-mail we just sent or an initiative we have just announced. Speed and being overwhelmed are often cited as negative pressures in today’s workplace but beneath it is impatience.

And it’s not just forced upon us. We choose it. Atomic Habits author James Clear talks of the immediacy trap, noting we often make choices based on immediate outcomes. But the course of action that could provide greater happiness, meaning or satisfaction in the long run may not make you happy in the next 30 minutes. It requires patience.

Another trap that comes with impatience is premature closure, a big disadvantage in innovation. “Some of the best solutions don’t come in the initial meeting or two, but after a longer incubation period. While mantras like ‘move fast and break things’ can help push people toward action, they can backfire when the underlying problem is complex,” Pronita Mehrotra, CEO of the creativity site MindAntix, executive coach Anu Arora, and business school dean Sandeep Krishnamurthy write in Harvard Business Review. Patiently urging the team to keep searching for more ideas can lead to more innovative and far-reaching solutions.

Executive coach Dan Rockwell says patience rejects the need for everything to be the best. It gives second chances. It tolerates weakness. It accepts irritation. It doesn’t complain. Some of that may be seen as poor leadership – weak leadership. But it’s better leadership, realistic leadership, accepting colleagues are human beings, none perfect, all of them with weaknesses and wounds. “Patience accepts what is and works to improve,” says Mr. Rockwell. “Show me a patient leader and I’ll show you someone people trust.” And trust, of course, can unlock better performance.

He stresses proper patience is not wimpy. It respects people while challenging them. “Patience dances on the edge of average but doesn’t camp there. Second chances are opportunities to improve, not validation of mediocrity,” he says. Patience pulls for improvement while accepting current attainment. Beating people up for past failure, he points out, doesn’t motivate them to reach high in the future.

Consultant Scott Eblin doesn’t believe patience and urgency are necessarily antithetical. Patience can prepare the ground for urgency, as you step back and assess what’s going on before acting. As we move into this next phase of engaging in the world, he says we’re going to need to run some new plays that match up with the different version of reality we face. “The game has changed; the plays need to change as well. Have the patience to develop a new playbook and train your team with it before you send them into the urgency of the game,” he says.

So adopt patience as your guiding light for the year. One word demanding lots of personal change. Instead of sending that late-night e-mail, which an employee hastily checking messages before bedtime doesn’t really need to see immediately, use your program’s delay. In a similar vein, separate the truly urgent from the not-so-urgent, know when urgency requires some delay to prepare your response, and model patience for your team to help to make 2022 less needlessly frantic.

Cannonballs

  • Journalist-turned-consultant Adam Bryant recommends devoting January to simplification. Another “one word” – this time, for one month.
  • You would hold fewer job interviews if you faced up to the negative impacts they create, says recruiting specialist John Sullivan. Excess interviews frustrate candidates but don’t improve hiring decisions. He labels it “death by interview” – a stealth killer of recruiting results.
  • Perhaps the single biggest thing that the most effective managers do better than the rest of us is to master the art of delegation, according to change management consultancy Root Inc.

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