How many times have we heard the virtues of patience extolled upon us? “Patience is a virtue” (said in your best, melodic parental voice), “Be patient”, “Have a little patience.” It’s what we’re told as we eagerly await our desired outcome, and sometimes as a passive aggressive way of saying ‘calm down’.

Patience IS a virtue, one that is arguably necessary to succeed in business. It’s what we should aspire to have more of, a muscle to flex, as we work toward our ultimate goal. It’s what gives us the strength and perseverance to keep moving forward.

Until that patience becomes tolerance.

These leadership traits, patience and tolerance, are often thought of as one and the same. While in practice these words have a lot in common, their differences show how they are in fact exact opposites.

Patience is defined as determination, resolve, tenacity, endurance and single-mindedness. All good qualities when you are reaching toward the goals ahead of you. It means taking a steadfast approach, but also a willingness to work and wait as things unfold.

Tolerance, on the other hand, is defined as lenient, indulgent, permissive, and long-suffering. Instead of waiting for things to unfold while continuing to work toward your goal, tolerance means putting up with something that is not working.

When you move from patience to tolerance, you shift from a steadfast resolve of accomplishing your goal to flat out acceptance of not reaching it! Tolerance means you’re buying into excuses, doing the same thing over and over, and letting your goal slip away into the very distant future.

The trouble with confusing patience and tolerance is it allows you to justify not doing something about it. Where patience is tactical and methodical, tolerance is indulgent and lacks accountability. It signals to others that less is acceptable, because that is what you are role modelling!

This corruption of patience allows you to fool yourself into believing that you’re showing your tenacious character by putting up with a load of crap. Instead of calling people out on what’s happening, you empower them to continue doing it while congratulating yourself for being so patient!

It’s a subtle difference that has vastly different outcomes. With patience, you’ll eventually reach your goal. Tolerance, however, will only serve to keep you stuck in the status quo. Patience is you allowing others time to rise to the challenge; tolerance is accepting whatever mediocrity they give you.

Patience is the mindset of leaders that calls forth your best, and the best of others! Tolerance is the mindset of martyrs that allows you to be the victim of other peoples’ excuses.

Are you being patient in your life, or are you being tolerant?

Only you truly know. Irritation is a red flag that your patience with the situation may have turned to tolerance. Do a quick internal check on any irritation levels you feel toward a particular event or person, and start looking there!

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One Response

  1. Wow, I love your take! When sharing that Patience and Tolerance will keep me sober I was referring to my Type 1 Perfectionist Personality. If I have patience because things don’t happen overnight and Tolerate myself to make a mistake or a wrong choice and not berate myself, I will not have to drink in order to calm my sorrows (at least temporarily)
    I do see how this way of of accepting less of myself could be a slippery slope; I carried this as well to my patience and Tolerance of other’s behavior, intellect and work ethic (or lack of.)
    I am going to present your View to my IOP Group as I really see the negative side to excessive patience becoming Tolerance of mediocre performance that would get me nowhere near my goal to complete a Masters at 71 years young.
    Karel Joan Klotz

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