Leadership Spotlight

Patience in Development

A photo of the authors daughter's drawing.

When I was a supervisor, I proudly displayed in my work space a picture “drawn” by my sweet 1-year-old daughter. When she gave it to me, I was touched by how something so simple and undeveloped could be so perfect. I thought her picture was a great reminder that our best effort counts.

Leaders in law enforcement have typically demonstrated a high level of competency. However, developing employees may lack the experience to perform at the same level. The key is patience and trust in the process. We must not only demonstrate patience with our developing employees but remind them to be patient with themselves.

I offer three ideas we can apply to empower our employees during their developmental process.

  1. Consistent effort over time: We should remind employees that long-term consistent effort leads to development. For example, someone wants to improve their fitness after neglecting exercise for years. If they go to the gym for five hours tomorrow, they will leave exhausted and sore yet experience little improvement in their overall fitness. Instead, if they work out at the gym four times a week for 30 minutes, there would likely be observable improvements in their fitness after several months.1
  2. Small improvements: Related to consistent effort is the need to help employees focus on small improvements. For example, the performance director for Great Britain’s cycling team took it from being one of the worst in cycling to dominating the sport. The director theorized that if everyone on the team focused on 1% improvements each day, the team would exponentially improve in due time. This theory was proven correct as the team went on to win five Tour de France races, 178 world championships, and 66 Olympic or Paralympic gold medals.2
  3. Effort over intelligence: To motivate developing employees, we might say, “You are a natural at this” or “You are a talented writer.” However, we can help our people develop a growth mindset if we praise effort over talent or outcome. Why? According to research, by praising employees’ talent, they will more likely give up when the development becomes difficult and tell themselves, “I guess they were wrong … I’m not as talented as they thought.” Instead, we should praise their effort and say things like “I notice that your radio communications are clearer and more concise, and I appreciate you working to develop that skill” or “The hard work that you put into this analytical product shows.”3

One of the most rewarding aspects of leadership — or parenting — is observing the development and growth of our people. My daughter’s new drawings join her old ones in my work space, serving as strong visual reminders that growth and development is a process that requires consistent effort over time.

Lance Lamoreaux, a program manager and core leadership instructor in the FBI’s Leadership Development Unit, prepared this Leadership Spotlight. He can be reached at ldlamoreaux@fbi.gov.


1 Simon Sinek, “Why Consistency Matters in Relations and Leadership,” Motivational Stories, November 14, 2018, video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=njeAb4CLQeI.

2 James Clear, Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones (New York: Random House, 2018), 13-16.

3 Carol S. Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (New York: Random House, 2016).