Is your patience holding you back at work?

Patience as a virtue might have made sense in the “Father Knows Best” era, but do those rules still apply?

Are patience and ambition two sides of a coin? Is there gender bias at play when we decide to go for it, or wait patiently? Undoubtedly like many of you, I grew up hearing proverbs such as, “children should be seen but not heard,” and “patience is a virtue.” They were intended to create “adult space,” yet these adages date back to the 14th century and were used to keep both children and women in their place.

We passed from an agricultural economy through the industrial revolution and into the information age where gender and age are no longer differentiators in success. Yet some of us may still be operating under these medieval values. We should consider the power of our words and images. Because our unconscious is shaped by the messaging we heard as children, in business where success may depend on speed to market, patience can sometimes lead to not asking for what you want and obsolescence.

Patience may require you to put aside ambition and wait “your turn.” It may prioritize other people’s agenda ahead of your own. This behavior might have made sense in the “Father Knows Best” days, but do these rules still apply? Children are becoming self-made millionaires with determination. They act rather than wait patiently. Children speak up and are being listened to – as adults we may need to learn to act rather than wait for our turn. The tendency to shy-away plagues women who doubt their self-worth as a result of the impostor syndrome which discounts the value of their accomplishments. Take a page from your children’s playbook, ask for what you want, often until you are heard.

Why was Canadian physicist Donna Strickland only promoted to a full professorship after receiving a Nobel Prize? Because she never applied! I know so many accomplished women who, like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz need a certification to feel accomplished. Women often feel that they need to overachieve to be worthy, while men overestimate their abilities. The effect of women’s tendency to self-doubt is magnified because of men’s tendency for over confidence. The result is that men propel themselves forward by asking for promotions that they may not be qualified for, while women patiently wait to be noticed, while they accumulate credentials.

How can you use patience as a strategy?

Being patient can prevent careless accidents, allowing you to evaluate a situation, gather information, and determine the correct course of action. In research you need to practice patience waiting for results or testing theories.

The key is to use patience actively and deliberately. Being patience does not mean waiting to be noticed. It means acting deliberately.

In the decision-making process use patience as a strategy, by electing to “wait and see,” or “do nothing yet” instead of jumping in blindly. Even urgent decisions require time for consideration. Being patient allows you to “think before you respond.” But practicing patience should not become the crutch to procrastinate. To avoid this from happening, set deadlines and let people know what you are doing. Sharing your intentions can help build your resolve to move forward and confidence in your abilities.

Everyone has ambition. A study found that 43% of women compared with 34% of men starting their careers expect to reach top management, but after two years women’s aspirations dropped by 60% while men remained the same. This change is not attributed to marital or parental status. What may be holding back women is the fear of failure, their need to be recognized and to be liked. Aggressive women are described negatively as being “bossy,” “too aggressive,” “out for herself,” “difficult” and “abrasive.” Whereas men are seen as “go-getters” or “leaders.” Over time, as more women take positions of senior leaders, gender bias in the workplace will disappear, but until then women need to become their own advocates.

Ask for what you want

Instead of waiting patiently, ask for what you want because the promotion will not fall in your lap. Because your coworkers and managers are most likely focusing on themselves, they may be unaware of your aspirations. You need to rally your strength and ask. This may require a behavior change and stepping out of your comfort zone, but it will be worth it. Remember your success depends on you!

  • Prepare mentally for the conversation. Know why it matters and have answers for any potential objections. This is your opportunity to sell yourself, not a casual conversation.
  • Keep your message clear, simple and direct. Leave nothing subject to interpretation. Say “I am interested in working on XXX” rather than “XXX looks like an interesting project.”
  • Be persistent and consistent. Don’t leave these conversations for your annual review. Schedule time to begin the conversation and continue the dialogue until you have closure. Keep these discussions positive, focused, action-oriented and timebound.
  • Ask for honest feedback. Identify any obstacles are in your way and discuss how they can be addressed. Be realistic with yourself. If this approach does not look promising, make another plan.

Are you an introvert in a workforce of extroverts? You are in good company. Many leaders in technology are introverts who have adapted. The primary difference is where they find energy. But you will need to push yourself to be heard.

  • Be ambitious. Dream big and reach for the stars and don’t be distracted by others. While they might be qualified, know that you are as well, and if you don’t try, you can’t succeed.
  • Try not to take rejection personally. Take a risk and put your name in for consideration.
  • Learn to trust your abilities without external validation or certifications. You don’t have to know it all, be open to learning and expanding.

The workplace is competitive. To succeed in business, it’s important to be seen and heard. Stop patiently waiting to be noticed. Instead push yourself forward and embrace your ambitions.

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