Patience and Fortitude
A secret phrase to try the next time you’re late
“Patience is waiting. Not passively waiting. That is laziness. But to keep going when the going is hard and slow—that is patience. The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.” — Leo Tolstoy, 1904
Have you ever been late to a meeting or an appointment?
Of course you have. You’re human.
And instinctively you offer what we in polite society would expect: an apology. Which is fine — the world needs better apologies.
But I’m going to give you something different to say—something more powerful and empowering—that will elevate your stature as a leader.
But first, a story.
Guardians of Knowledge
Have you ever been to New York City? If you have, you probably walked past the New York Public Library.
You know the building—it’s the same one that the Ghostbusters came screaming out of in the opening of the iconic 1984 movie. And out front, you'll see the two guardians of the library—the world-renowned pair of marble lions that stand proudly before the majestic Beaux-Arts building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in Manhattan.
Did you know they had names?
The pair, sculpted by Edward Clark Potter and carved by the Piccirilli Brothers, were initially named Leo Astor and Leo Lenox, after two founders of the library, John Jacob Astor and James Lenox.
They were placed on their pedestals just days before the opening of the Main Branch on May 23, 1911.
In the 1930s, mayor Fiorello LaGuardia nicknamed them “Patience” and “Fortitude,” two qualities he thought New Yorkers needed to weather the Great Depression.
And since that time, that’s what they’ve been called.
“No greater thing is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.” — Epictetus
Why does leadership call for patience?
Well, in one case, patience gives a leader an opportunity to remain calm. To practice the opposite of anger.
And in an age when crises loom at every moment and stress is threatening to creep up on us like Jack the Ripper, patience is indeed a virtue—armor against emotion-driven reactions, both from without and within.
Have you found yourself warming up to someone who is impatient and quick to fly off the handle? Likely not. The leader who is patient is the leader who is respected.
Even better, in addition to demonstrating to your colleagues that you can’t be ruffled by challenges that are thrown your way, recent research has uncovered additional benefits of patience:
When leaders demonstrate patience, their employees’ self-reported creativity and collaboration increased by an average of 16% and their productivity by 13%.
When you show patience, your team’s performance improves.
You’ve heard the adage “Slow and steady wins the race.” Well, when you exhibit patience, you convey to your team that a more measured pace is acceptable. And in doing so, they’ll make fewer unforced errors.
“Humility is attentive patience.” — Simone Weil, 1940
The Alternative to an Apology
I promised you a different approach to apologizing for your tardiness, and I won’t let you down. Especially since you’ve been so kind to read the entire newsletter.
The next time you’re late to a meeting or call, instead of saying “Sorry I’m late,” simply say this:
“Thank you for your patience.”
This is a magical phrase—one that takes the focus off of your shortcoming and places it on the virtue of your counterpart.
Suddenly, you have gone from victim to hero with five short words. You’ve given your colleague a gift by demonstrating leader humility—acknowledging their human dignity.
It’s a subtle but powerful behavior. And the beauty is that it reflects well on you and on your colleagues.
The next guest on the Timeless Leadership podcast is Ted Wright. As CEO of Fizz, Ted has been at the forefront of word of mouth marketing for more than two decades. And of all the practices of marketing, word of mouth may require the most patience.
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.