I think one of my least favorite things to do is to be patient. It's so hard to be patient. It just doesn't come naturally to me. So when I saw that patience was a servant leadership quality in James Hunter's list, I internally groaned. In The Way I Lead, remember that I confessed that my leadership style is to just take over someone else's job if they aren't performing to my expectations. So when I read Hunter's list, it just reaffirmed what I knew about having to work on my patience.
The dictionary defines patience as, "An ability or willingness to suppress restlessness or annoyance when confronted with delay." And that perfectly describes the exact opposite of how I usually act when confronted with delay. As I said, my response when confronted with delay is to act on my restlessness. But as we looked at in The Way I Lead, that isn't a good way to lead. I used the example of a person bagging orders slower than I would like them to. If I were to step in and start doing their job, I'm making two major mistakes. 1) It causes me to fall behind in my work, and 2) it denies that person the opportunity to gain experience. Your followers can't learn from their mistakes if you don't give them a chance to.
You have to be patient enough to let people mess up. There are no perfect people, so there are no perfect performances, especially from new people or slow learners. You have to give people the chance to learn by trial-and-error. You have to let them make their mistakes so they can learn from them. This is an incredibly important lesson to learn for any servant leader, but more so if you're the training director, parents of preteens, or a youth pastor. In those types of jobs, your role as leader is essentially to groom young people to become the best they can be. We all know young people make plenty of mistakes, so it takes a lot of patience to lead them.
In The Servant, Hunter looked at patience in a way that I never really had before. He described patience as showing self-control. And that makes sense, right? That's basically a shortened version of the dictionary's definition. Patience means showing self-control. I really like looking at patience that way. It makes it feel easier to be patient. When I hear the word patient, I cringe and think of patience as an impossibility. But if I think of patience as simply showing self-control, suddenly I feel like I can be patient. It makes the task seem easier and it makes me think I might actually be able to be patient.
Have you ever seen a leader lose control of his or her emotions? It's never pretty to see the leader throwing a tantrum or going on a rant, is it? Many leaders have gotten in hot water because they lost control of their emotions. Just think of the number of professional or college coaches who have gotten in trouble for throwing a tantrum in post-game press conferences or for berating their players in practice or a game.
It's important for a leader to be patient. It's important for a leader to be a model of self-control. We've seen what can happen if leaders lose control. I believe self control is one of the most important character traits for a servant leader to have. Without it, he or she is untrustworthy, consistently inconsistent with their emotions, and liable to be unkind, selfish, and mean. It's hard to keep yourself from sin without self-control. It's hard to do things you have to do even if you don't want to do them without self-control. It would've been hard for Jesus to have served and to succumbed to the cross without self-control. Without self-control, God would've long ago destroyed mankind. Remember that He came really close once.
And so I encourage you to try to be more patient and to have more self-control. Make patience and self-control two of your core values. Treasure them and don't abandon them. They will get you far in life if you allow them to.