As is the case with every living language, the meaning of words can change over the course of time. This is why communication on important and key concepts can be so challenging. In my opinion, tolerance is a tough word to define. It falls into the confusing category of words that are commonly used although there are numerous variations of its true meaning. Consequently, for the purpose of building a culture of character, I think it is an important concept for leaders to clarify.
When we talk about tolerance as a character quality, we are not talking about tolerance in the sense of appreciating or respecting another’s worldview or perspective. This is an important discussion and a worthy endeavor but beyond the scope of the concept for our purposes. What we are talking about is the ability of a leader to accept people where they are in their journey of personal and professional development.
Several months ago, I had the opportunity to lead a leadership workshop at the high school I attended many years ago. The school has been blessed by having remarkable retention of their teachers and several of my teachers were still there when I returned. In addition, the school now employs several of my classmates as teachers and coaches. When I stood up to speak, the sheer number of memories that began to flood into my mind surprised me. Some were good memories of things done well; others were memories of regret and missed opportunities. Fortunately for me, the people in the room, my teachers and coaches genuinely cared for me. Instead of recalling the moments of regret, they shared positive memories and encouraging stories. They had not forgotten my awkward years; they had simply labeled those moments as “learning moments” versus “defining moments.”
When we speak of tolerance in the workplace, this is not to be confused with accepting a lower standard or compromising one’s convictions. We are however speaking of the patience needed when a young leader is pushing too hard in an effort to prove himself or herself or when a seasoned employee expresses concern about the future of the company in the wrong setting because they are worried about their future. In these moments, when a leader chooses not to overreact or too quickly silence a genuine question, it breeds a sense of security and safety. This demonstration of restraint is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength and compassion.