Learning to Embrace Innovation

On Thursday, September 1, Elon Musk’s latest big idea literally went up in smoke.

The explosion of a Falcon 9 space rocket, manufactured by one of Musk’s companies, SpaceX, didn’t just call into question the viability of the launch vehicle (which is slated to launch NASA astronauts for the first time as soon as next year), but it once again raised concerns regarding his management style. As this Los Angeles Times story suggested: Was he trying to do too much too fast?

It’s not the first time Musk has been referred to as impatient, much like other goal-driven leaders with a big vision for the future. Achieving big breakthroughs absolutely requires impatience, though it’s far from anyone’s list of must-have management characteristics.

But impatience, really?  Isn’t patience the virtue?

As Karin Hurt of Let’s Grow Leaders shares, “Impatience works when combined with other important characteristics, such as trust, humility and relationship-building”. It’s the same message we heard delivered in last week’s Mission Forward conversation with Clara Miller and Mauricio Miller. As they both believe: Impatience is critical for impact, whether you deal in spaceships or the social sector.

Reflecting on Clara and Mauricio’s comments, here’s what we think you need to know about embracing impatient leadership:

  • There’s a difference between striving for a better tomorrow, and asking for everything yesterday. Being an impatient leader can inspire remarkable teamwork, or it can create a highly pressurized and toxic environment. Understand that there are consequences for setting up a culture of urgency. Drive for progress without driving your team to the brink.
  • Even in impatience, you must find your patience. Striving for a better and brighter future is noble, and appropriate in the social sector. However, being driven by the possibility of what lies ahead need not come across as irritation, restlessness, or edginess. Leave those characteristics at the door.
  • If you seem impatient, explain why. Urgency without explanation is frustrating. Ensure that your team understands how the urgency of your tone (not necessarily the urgency of your actions) links to the bigger picture. By doing so, you’ll empower your team to help make your big vision a reality.