Updated: Apr 21, 2022
I wanted to quote someone like Yoda to begin this post, but having just watched the first 6 Star Wars films, I know now that there is no point where he actually says 'Have patience my young padawan' despite this having become a fairly well-known maxim. I'm certainly going to avoid quoting Take That and on this occasion will refrain from googling 'famous quotes about patience'. Actually, over the years, my go-to place for encouragement regarding patience is the Bible, which has a lot to say about the matter. First of all, it encourages patience a lot. It also says that patience is an attribute of true love. But it is to the 'wisdom literature' that I would take myself today:
A person’s wisdom yields patience;
it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.
- Proverbs 19:11 (NIV)
Through patience a ruler can be persuaded,
and a gentle tongue can break a bone.
- Proverbs 25:15 (NIV)
The end of a matter is better than its beginning,
and patience is better than pride.
- Ecclesiastes 7:8 (NIV)
Being patient is one of my enduring battles - it most certainly does not come naturally to me. Compounded by the fact that I am a perfectionist, I often want everything right away - and it better be just right, too.
This impacts in all areas of life, albeit in different outworkings. At home, I'm more likely to allow my impatience to seep out in frustration and anger. At work, as a school leader, I am more restrained: I attempt to mask it for the sake of professionalism, but impatience then eats away at me internally.
When you are a leader, you actually rely a lot on other people. Whilst they may look to you for leadership, you look to them to follow. And, for many reasons, people don't always follow. Or sometimes they don't follow in just the way you want them to. Or sometimes they follow so much that it seems like there is very little independent thought.
In schools, there are daily opportunities for leaders to exercise patience: with children who are struggling with a concept; with parents upset by a decision that has been made; with teachers working hard to improve their practice; with fellow leaders you don't always see eye to eye with; with the time it takes to feed all the children at lunchtime; with colleagues who are finding it difficult to work together - the list could go on.
But I come back to those proverbs above.
The first practical suggestion we get is that patience can be developed by wisely overlooking things. Obviously, wisdom is the key here - we can't go about school overlooking everything - some things need addressing, but we can be selective in this, and we can prioritise. Not everything needs sorting now - some things can wait, others are more pressing. By shelving some concerns for a later date, we can focus on doing fewer things better, feel like we are achieving something, and not feel so impatient. By doing this we reduce the number of things we are impatient for, and therefore reduce the overall feeling of impatience making it a more manageable emotion.
The second thing we could learn is that by maintaining a gentle tongue, we are more likely to remain patient. Elsewhere in the Bible it says the tongue is like a rudder: the things we say determine our direction. If we find it easier to manage what we say, then we might be able to control our patience. Having in mind to always speak politely, courteously, slowly, with thought and with a mind to the feelings of others can actually help us to be more patient with other people. Firstly, they will detect less of our impatience, and most likely our own words will have a soothing affect on our own feelings. I know that I can control the things I say better than the things I feel inside, so that seems like a logical starting point.
The third is both a reminder to stay humble (humility being the opposite of pride) and to remember, in a sense, that we will get there in the end.
Impatience, particularly with others, stems, in part, from pride - the belief that we could do it better, or that our way is right. It also comes from selfishness - believing that the best outcome for us is that something happens right away. C.S. Lewis wrote 'Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less.' - being a leader is not about us, it's about them - the people we lead. We must think more about them and their needs, than we do our own. Why are we impatient - because we want results now. Why might results now be impossible? Because we depend on others to get results for us. And those people have an intricate mass of interwoven needs - we have to think of them, and how we can help them, before we can even think about the results we desire from them.
Then, to finish, we are reminded that we will get there in the end. With diligence we will. With impatience we won't. Impatience never speeds up the arrival of a good thing, and if it does, then that good thing is usually marred. There are very few quick routes to children grasping concepts, parents coming round to your point of view, teachers becoming consistently great, convincing fellow leaders of something, getting all the children through the canteen, mending fractured relationships between colleagues. If we impatiently employed quick-fixes in all the above scenarios, they would soon fall apart again.
The end will be better than the beginning and we have to fall back and rest on that truth as school leaders, knowing that if we patiently plod away (and plodding is how it will sometimes feel) we will get there in the end.
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