Balancing Urgency & Patience revamp_odeqd23 June 9, 2019

Balancing Urgency & Patience

Leadership Test: Can You Be Ambitious and Patient at the Same Time?

Scott Fitzgerald famously said that “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

Let’s apply that to “going far” and “going fast”. So often, the leaders and teams I coach want to do just that – go fast and go far. Be nimble and adaptive and implement an ambitious, far-reaching vision with a strategic blueprint.

It’s here – at that intersection of vision & ambition and patience – where our first-rate intelligence is tested.

A key promise – and major responsibility – of leadership is to bring a meaningful vision to life – to make it happen. That same impulse, though, also feeds our egoic selves that love to think we are in control. Adult development theory calls that self-authoring – the capacity for having an intrinsic vision, self-directed doing, and an internal seat of judgment. Great things happen from this (advanced) place of social-emotional maturity. However, if we let the ego’s need for control take over, we are tempted to put DOING over BEING because DOING gives us a sense of control. Once I am engaged in DOING that’s separated from BEING, DOING leads to wanting to be DONE. And I just can’t get there fast enough.

In my spare time – as a balance to my people-oriented and interactive work – I garden. Gardening just nails that tension between driving and allowing to unfold. So, let me use some gardening metaphors to make a point. I may be stating the obvious. Perhaps. But bear with me as, for so many of us, knowing is less of an issue than allowing ourselves to be affected by what we know (and act on it…)

Over and again, gardening teaches me something about vision and patience: I can’t rush it. There is only so much I can do to prep the ground and think about which plants to use and how to space them etc. At the end of the day, after all the groundwork is done, it’s watering, weeding – and waiting to let nature run its course.

I am reminded of the delicate balances of dynamics by my clients all the time: Be it a team leader needing to heal a team from strained relationships, a business leader needing to onboard a new key staff member, or a coaching client who needs to shift her team’s and organization’s culture from siloed and reactive to collaborative and audaciously visionary.


It’s easy to say and hard to bear. And mind you, I am not proposing to “just go with the flow”. You cannot forego urgency either.

How we navigate the tension of this irreconcilable contradiction is a true test of leadership. To pass this test, and what I am reminding myself of – is to avoid the misleading separation from DOING and BEING. Picking one over the other implies a false choice. It’s not either… or… – but both… and…

So, how do we resist the temptation to sever the two? Much like the snail in Issa’s famous haiku, let’s climb our personal and professional Mount Fuji with urgency and determination. But slowly, slowly. What will allow us to ease into patience is having clear goal posts and a credible roadmap for getting there. This way, we can bring direction to our agency and vision AND enjoy the trip as it unfolds – whatever milestone we’re at…