Strategic Patience

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Anthony Pica
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Strategic Patience

Strategic Patience

It's in our nature to act impulsively. Fifteen thousand years ago if you saw a saber-tooth cat, you wouldn't hesitate to act. Making a fast decision was a matter of life or death.

Today, we still use mental shortcuts called heuristics to make decisions quickly, and they're often beneficial as they save our brains energy. But there are situations when leaders must slow down to see the hidden picture, understand different viewpoints, and predict potential outcomes.

In 1962, the CIA identified Soviet nuclear missiles close to US shores in Cuba. [[John F. Kennedy]]'s advisors said the US needed to act quickly with force and invade Cuba.

Kennedy refused to act with haste. As the country's leader, he knew his team needed to think things through because the stakes were so high. He made points like, "I think we ought to think of why the Russians did this" and "What is the advantage they are trying to get".

Kennedy believed the Russians built the missile silos in Cuba because they perceived the Americans as being weak. At the same time, he realized the Soviet aggression was rooted in weakness and desperation. Instead of acting impulsively with violence, the US put a blockade on Cuba which granted both parties more time to think things through. Hostilities still escalated, but much slower, and the countries had time to communicate.

After nearly two weeks of tense negotiation, the confrontation was over. Russia agreed to remove the missiles, and the US said they wouldn't invade Cuba and would also remove missiles from Turkey. Both parties won and appeared strong to the world.

Despite the urgency felt during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy showed patience and clarity of thought. During a meeting with his advisors, he had quoted a line from B.H. Liddell Hart's book on strategy:

"Keep strong, if possible. In any case, keep cool. Have unlimited patience. Never corner an opponent, and always assist him to save face. Put yourself in his shoes—so as to see things through his eyes. Avoid self-righteousness like the devil—nothing is so self-binding."

It is often easy to act impulsively, especially when fear and anxiety are present. It is part of our nature. But as leaders, we can use time as a tool to think things through. Patience can help clarify our thinking. Clear thinking leads to better outcomes.

Have there been any recent situations where you could have benefited from slowing down and being patient?

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