How would you feel if someone asked you to slow down?
(Would you welcome it? Would it give you anxiety?)
What lasting things have you achieved by rushing?
(Would you list those things as your proudest accomplishments?)
In my mid career, I had the distinct pleasure of working for, and alongside, one of the most driven people I have ever known in my life — a man named Raman Padmanabhan. Raman moved from Mumbai to the United States in 1997; received his Master’s degree in 1999; worked as a software development contractor through 2005, and by 2012 became a divisional CIO for Xerox Corporation. He started working for Highmark Health in 2014, and by 2016 he had moved back to India as founding CEO of Thryve Digital Health (a division of Highmark), which hit 1,000 employees in 2018.
I’m out of breath just thinking about it. From an individual contributor — to a CEO of 1,000 employees — in just thirteen years.
I say that Raman was driven. At times, I would say that it seemed he was impatient.
But one thing that distinguishes good leaders is that, somewhere on their journey, they realize that patience is what really wins the day. I recently reached out to Raman, presuming that he — like I — had discovered the value of patience. Because of what he had achieved, I was fairly sure he had come to discover what I had discovered.
“Drew, I laughed when you reached out to me,” Raman shared. “When we met, I was 27 years old. You and I were so much younger. We were in a culture where we couldn’t get anywhere unless we were aggressive. But just last year, I participated in a 360° review, and the feedback from the people I work with revealed that they could not understand why I was so extremely patient. They expected me to be impatient — that I should just ‘make a decision’ quickly about so many things.
“When I moved to the United States, my father told me: ‘Impatience is driven by fear and ambition.’ That fear and ambition is what made me impatient. You don’t want to become a poster child of failure. You want to feel like you ‘made it.’ But I lacked the experience to know any differently. Every time I look back, I know it was those two things (fear and ambition) that led to my impatience.”
Indeed, Raman had discovered the value of patience.
In our conversation, Raman shared that there is a special Hindi word that is used to describe patience that has no direct English translation: Saburi, which is strongly associated with the teachings of an Indian spiritual master known as Sai Baba of Shirdi. In this context, Saburi finds itself strongly associated with the concept of Shraddha, which is essentially what we might call faith. In order to have patience, one has to have belief that there is a possibility for change.
I suggest that the most vital manifestation of patience in any organization is a culture that values coaching. If you are lucky enough to witness a culture that values coaching, you will be in awe. Why? Because you will quickly see how difficult it is to copy. It requires an immense amount of patience.
If we coarsely break down three types of issues we encounter in life into the following categories, we can illustrate a point:
- Issues whose lifecycle is measured in hours or days (problems and small conflicts)
- Issues whose lifecycle is measured in weeks, months or years (projects, which have a start and an end)
- Issues whose lifecycle is measured in years or decades (personal growth and development)
We can envision these as concentric planetary orbits around the Sun, from Mercury to Venus to Earth:
- Mercury’s orbit, which is the innermost, is the most eccentric (let’s just call it “spastic”). One orbit around the Sun: three Earth months.
- Venus’ orbit, which is predictable and nearly perfectly circular. One orbit around the Sun: seven Earth months.
- Earth’s orbit, where we live.
There are three different sorts of tools we use to accommodate those three orbits of our life and work:
- Problems: Advice or ideas
- Projects: Collaboration and discussion
- People: Coaching
Advice, which is offered quickly, frequently, and easily, is the cheapest of the three, and is nearly disposable in nature. It’s the inner, most spastic orbit. It’s as hot and fast as Mercury itself. That is not to say that it is useless. It just doesn’t find purchase for lasting impact. It gets you through the now. By its very nature, it comes from without, and not from within, so it requires others to be there. You would be very hard pressed to provide your own new advice to yourself on a regular basis.
Collaboration and discussion get you through an initiative. It is people working together over a long haul on things that need to have a definitive end. It works like the clockwork that is Venus’ picture-perfect orbit. This is where the self and the other come together to accomplish a greater goal.
Coaching, however, is something that takes time. Coaching is all about asking questions and changing the ways that people think. It is as deep and complex as the Earth itself. No coincidence!
People don’t move at the speed of advice; people move at the speed of coaching, and making the decision to invest in this sort of work takes…well…Saburi and Shraddha. Organizations that embrace a coaching culture at all levels — where every employee is encouraged to help others think, and not just to dole out answers, from the bottom to the top — are the ones whose orbits are the most difficult to disrupt.
So why don’t we do that so easily, or so often?
What did Raman’s father tell him?
What exactly are we afraid of?
Of not knowing what might happen. Of not being able to develop the skills. These are valid things. But the willingness to overcome these things…to devote the time and afford the patience to invest in the humans you collaborate with…will reap rewards that will be difficult for those you call your competitors to replicate unless they choose the same path.
It is within your reach, and within your control. Will you be satisfied merely giving advice and collaborating? Or will you have the patience to coach, and ask others to follow?