Patience vs. Tolerance

Knowing the difference could lower your blood pressure and change the way the game is played. 

As noted in my previous article, one of the obstacles I had to overcome as a leader is distinguishing the difference between patience and tolerance. Once I understood the difference, it relieved a lot of internal issues I had been struggling with in getting our team members to align themselves with our company goals and processes and improve performances.

Have you ever finished a conversation with one of your team members that left you almost speechless and shaking your head in disgust or frustration? Have you ever uttered to yourself “how many more times do I need to talk with him about this?” 

If so, this article may help.

Over the years, our company has made tons of mistakes and paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to consultants to help us improve. And in that time, I received quite a bit of feedback on how to become more effective as a leader. In addition to setting very clear expectations, one common theme I “heard  from multiple consultants was the need for me, as the leader, to be more patient. They would say things to me like “this guy is new to your company and does not know how you do business yet,” or “You have been analyzing this for months from many different angles, but it is the first time these guys are hearing it…give it some time.”

So, I started to exercise more patience – at least, my understanding of what patience was – with our general managers. I met with each manager, individually, on site at each office and discussed what I was observing within the team and what I was expecting from them. I remember leaving those meetings feeling very satisfied. My confidence was reinforced by the managers themselves, as they said they understood my concerns, knew what needed to get done, and they had everything they needed to get it done. I felt like we were all on the same page and that all the money we shelled out on consultants was paying off. 

However, over the ensuing weeks, I couldn’t help but notice that some of the issues addressed with general managers were not being handled properly. These were basic things, like making sure each job had a daily log note or that all time was tracked accurately to a job. Even though I thought my head was going to explode due to my rising blood pressure, I heard my consultant’s words ringing in my head to be patient and give the manager a reminder on what needed to be done. And each time my patience was met by the manager with a quick and enthusiastic: “Yep, my bad. I got it now.”

I can vividly remember having a self-soothing conversation with myself after finishing a call with Jay, a GM for one of our locations. He had just informed me that one of his project managers wrapped up a $300K job that cost us $306K to produce. 

Yeah, you read correctly. We spent $6,000 more to finish that job than we would receive for doing the job. 

If you have ever been a project manager, you would know how difficult it is to do that on a job, considering you are making anywhere from 30-40% profit margin on a job. In this case, the project manager spent over $100K more than he expected and the GM had no idea. I was livid and stunned. I could not wrap my head around it because Jay and I had been discussing this job for months and I was being assured he was on top of it.

Sidebar- It is not lost on me that I should not have been surprised that he did not know, because it was really my responsibility to know, too. This was long before we had our workflow mapped out with automated reporting like we have now. 

I remember venting about Jay to my consultant, Bob, and afterwards he asked me a question that left me dumbfounded: “Why are you tolerating such poor performance?”

I looked at him incredulously and said with some energy and a bit of rather colorful language: “Because. You. Told. Me. I. Needed. To. Be. More. Patient!”

It is then that I learned the incredibly valuable lesson of knowing and explaining to our team members the difference between patience and tolerance. I learned to be patient with a team member if he or she is doing something differently in order to get other and better results. I learned to look for the change in behavior and see incremental improvements within team members as a way to achieve expectations. I learned the incredible value of praising the change in behavior along with the improving results. And while the change may not happen overnight, the change was “sticky” and a team member’s pride and confidence grew along the way. 

I also learned from Bob that I should not be tolerant of people who are unwilling to make changes if they are underperforming. That tolerance is bad on numerous levels, particularly to the A-Players in your organization who do not want to be associated with leaders that let that happen. Bob helped me realize I was taking on the burden of the other person’s poor performance and lack of willingness to do something differently. 

Almost instantly, everything became crystal clear to me and the burden was taken off of me and placed where it belonged: in the hands of the team member. I also realized that no matter how badly I want to help people grow or change, I cannot do it for them. It is up to the team members to do the heavy lifting if they want to improve their life. 

And if they do not want to invest in their growth, why should I? Why should you? 

I hope this helped in some small way. 

In the meantime, Be Not Afraid…and Let It Rip.

Mike Bevilacqua

Chief Culture Officer of Mammoth Restoration.

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