Playing Patience: Hills to Die On. Or Not.

Someday, you’re going to take that guidon or flag and you’re going to be that head honcho; the boss; the decision-maker; the grand moff. Well, okay, hopefully not the latter, as that means that you’ve somehow slipped into the chain of command of the Galactic Empire. As you rise in rank and responsibility, your duties will increase. But what never increases is your time. In fact, it seems to magically decrease in an inverse proportion to the size of the element you lead. And as you watch your available time disappear into the rear view mirror, you also realize that your stocks of patience are soon to follow.

Patience, the parable tellers say, is a virtue. For the purposes of commanders, patience is that thing that keeps you mission-focused, working well with others, and self-reflective. Losing patience turns you into that person who screams at subordinates, who loses sight of the mission, and who becomes self-absorbed. And no one wants to be that person. Well, unless you work for the Galactic Empire, in which case, it is considered a personality asset. Combine that with trashing communications equipment, and maybe they’ll even make you a Sith lord.

Once you accept that you have limited capital of patience, you have to figure out where you want to spend it. You will be presented with countless instances where your patience is needed; but if you try to fight every battle that comes your way, you’re going to end up exhausted and burnt out. There was never a more apt time to pick your battles. For me, I generally chose one of three approaches when a hilltop of decision would come into view: attack, bypass, or die on.

Sometimes, you need to go on the attack. Just like with all offensive actions, you should have reasonable odds of victory on your side. A 3-to-1 advantage, if you will. If you are reasonably sure you can win an argument with battalion without spending too much of your patience or political capital, and if they payoff is big enough – then, by all means, fix bayonets and win that fight.
However, by and large, your odds of success in fighting for every hillock, hummock, mound, spur, tor, precipice, eminence, knoll, and all the other types of hills – well, they’re going to be lower because of your reduced time and patience. That’s when you move to my favorite tactic: bypass. Now, Frederick the Great said to never leave a fortified castle in your rear, but Freddy never had to deal with end-of-the-day taskers on a Friday before a holiday weekend, so he can shove it. There really is a bypass to everything – it just depends on what else is in the way. There are several methods of bypass: you can delegate the task, for one. That’s the most common. Then you can try the “wait-and-see” approach. If no one ever touches base with you on it again, you can just forget about it. Not every priority can be number one, after all. Another method of bypass is passive acceptance, where giving in is less exhausting than fighting it out and the payoff for winning is too small. Sometimes you just gotta do the thing and drive on.

But then there are times when you know that the odds of winning are slim but that backing down would violate your principles, undermine your values, or break trust with your soldiers. And that’s where you stack the sandbags as high as you can, pile up spare mags, and call for any and all air support. It’s time to die on that hill. Sometimes, these fights should be in private. Sometimes, they should be visible for everyone to see, if it benefits your organization. If your soldiers know that you’ll go to the mat for them, even in what appears to be a hopeless struggle, it goes a long way to building trust.

Knowing when to attack, bypass, or make your stand is critical knowledge that comes over time as you grow as a leader. There is no rubric or doctrine on this; this is part of the “art” of leadership. Developing tactical patience as a leader allows you to slow things down and make an informed decision unaffected by emotion. It also encourages self-reflection after each “battle,” bringing about greater knowledge for future engagement. In the long run, patience is one of a leader’s greatest assets.

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