The Role of Patience and Pain in Leadership
Thoughts on two overlooked components of leadership growth, and a final update on our garden.
What are the factors that truly grow us into better leaders? Looking around at the most relevant and cutting edge ideas about leadership today, I’m guessing these two — patience and pain — probably wouldn’t make the list.
I don’t think they’re very popular or cool ideas. After all, who wants to wait years or decades to become a better leader? We want results, and we tend to want them as soon as possible!
And it’s definitely not fun to think about pain. It’s our very tendency and instinct to avoid things like grief, discomfort, and suffering.
And yet we see the value of patience and pain everywhere, don’t we? We hear from older leaders who look back and reflect on how long it took them to learn the most important lessons in life. We see the maturity process that only comes when leaders fail or fall short of their goals.
I’m also reminded of the times Jesus talked about the mustard seed growing into a large tree, and a kernel of wheat falling to the ground to die, before producing many other seeds — patience and pain embodied in nature’s growth process. As I’ve watched our garden grow this summer, it’s reminded me just how long it takes for a seed to grow into a plant, let alone a tree!
My wife spent hours and hours weeding, fertilizing, cultivating, and trimming the plants in our garden. And in the end, we enjoyed the fruit — but it’s that much sweeter when you wait week after week for the fruit to appear and ripen. Patience makes growth that much more rewarding.
And sometimes in gardening, things just don’t bear fruit. No matter how faithful you are, some plants don’t take root and grow. Three years ago, our garden produced hundreds of heirloom tomatoes. This year, it produced only two. Granted, those two tomatoes were amazing and we made the best sandwiches ever with them. : ) But overall, it was disappointing.
In life and leadership, things don’t always turn out the way we’d want. Even when we give it our best shot, we cause pain for ourselves and sometimes pain for other people. And as hard as it is, there’s nothing like pain to compel us to take a deeper look at ourselves, to realize our need for help, or to learn to trust in God.
And so as I look at my “growth lists” from my two other posts earlier this year, I’m reminded to be patient and to not be deterred by failure, but to let it change me as a leader.
Here are some updates on my growth list:
One of my goals was to be as engaged and available as possible with people, in the things I’ve committed to.
I feel this is going well, but one thing I’d like to do more is to enjoy and appreciate the people who are available for me. I want to set up meetings that pour life into me, so I continue to “fill up my tank” as a leader.
Another goal of mine was to initiate constructive feedback in a timely manner with people.
I’ve been trying this! I was a little hesitant to do this at first, but so far I think my feedback has been received well. What’s helped me is to mention to these people that “giving immediate constructive feedback is something new that I’m trying to do with the people I care about.” And to acknowledge that “it may feel weird at first, but it’s something I want to get better at doing regularly.”
And here’s a new goal for me!
As you might have been able to tell from recent posts, I’m learning what it means to not be too hard on myself, but to “take in” all the sources of grace in my life — God, people who know and love me, and activities that bring me joy and life. Plus, maybe the most important one… to rest and cease from activity at times, living out my belief that I’m not loved for how much I do or achieve.
Feel free to check in with me and ask me about any of these things, or other things as well. It’s a process, and I’m learning to not be in a rush, but to allow the work of patience and pain to do their work in me.
I hope and pray for the same for you in your leadership. Thanks for learning and growing with me!