On Leadership and The Reflections of An Aging Leader

Wisdom Rock

At my age, I have a realization that I don’t really want to contemplate too much in my mind. The brutal fact for me is that I have fewer years to live than I have lived thus far. However, the invincibility that I assumed in my youth has transformed into the freedom of not caring what other people think of me.

So my challenge then becomes mediating a “don’t care” mindset with a mindset of “respect and caring for others” – particularly those who age-appropriately still believe in their invincibility.

And I certainly do not want to become a grumpy old man – a male dinosaur – who is written off by younger people!

A Generational Perspective

I now appreciate the value of having relationships with people from different generations much more now than previously when the other generation was older than me.

Youthful arrogance is charming; but in old age, it is boring and pathetic.

I marvel at my Millennial colleagues’ abilities to surf the digital world as well as their awareness of things that I have only begun to see in the last 10 years. Mostly, I do not understand their world. I have empathy for their anxiety about our world. But I am also puzzled by their inability to truly connect more intimately and humanly with each other.

When working with less-experienced people, I must keep front and center in my mind that my experiences, skills, competencies and accomplishments are the result of lots of time and practice. I need to check my urge to say “that’s just common sense”; or “why can’t they just do it like I do?” I have to consciously retrace my steps back to where I started so that I can explain those steps. I do a disservice to them when I do not empathize that they are learning, just like I did when I was young and “wet behind the ears.”

After all, building a career is a team sport.

A New Approach to Leading

To grow and serve better, I know now that I also have to change my approach to leading. I grew up in authoritarian, hierarchical workplaces which younger people do not take too kindly to.

Telling and selling” is not effective for learning today.

I have to recognize that while I have many years of experience which my younger colleagues are eager to learn from, they also want to be part of the problem-solving and want to be recognized for their contributions. I appreciate that I have developed a relaxed satisfaction of perspective as a result of having seen and experienced various crises both personally and professionally.

Perspective-wise, what to younger people looks like the end of the road, I can now see that it may be just a bend in the road. Or, if it is the end of the road, we just need to “drop back and punt” and find a new path.

My responsibility in those situations is to offer them a grounding in the apparent chaos: “This too shall pass.

Leading a Healthy Approach

While I work out five days a week with a strength coach with 3-4 other people twenty to thirty years younger than me, I also recognize that I no longer have the power to push through, nor do I have the interest to endure the pain that powering through requires. I work out because I want to have the strength and the stamina to participate fully – physically and intellectually.

I am much smarter when I work out regularly. I look better and sleep more soundly too.

At this point in my life I want the pleasure of my age-appropriate fitness rather than the exhausted feeling I often felt when working out. In skiing I have replaced the thrilling excitement of testing my capabilities in any kind of ugly weather with the pleasure of a relaxing, revitalizing only on sunny days. Rather than doing those extra two runs I linger on the deck over a beer with friends.

I do need my sleep because without it I am done by early afternoon. My brain deteriorates into a mush of discombobulated attempts to get done what I want to do. I become easily frustrated and slipping into bad mouthing myself for not being able to keep up.

Aging with Wisdom

Which reminds me. I have come to accept that discipline means freedom. I can no longer be sloppy about life. Aging gracefully is a tortoise vs. hare story. I’ve seen many of my fellow leaders burn themselves out or become cynical and crusty or grumpy in denial of this fact.

It is amusing to watch the hares running around.

I like that I am better at not taking things personally when people do not understand or don’t like my work. I no longer choose to get caught up in the drama of political conflicts in the workplace from which many people seem to derive some kind of titillation. Frankly I think the drama is a way of avoiding self-responsibility while resisting just getting down to doing what one is supposed to be doing.

Leading Fond Memories

I do miss the thrill of being flirted with by female co-workers. I now watch from the sidelines as the game is played out by younger people. I do not miss the painful, expensive fall-out that I have experienced by playing that game. I now prefer long-term relaxed connection vs. short-term craziness. Although I must say, it really did seem to be fun at the time.

The memories are entertaining.

I really enjoy mentoring people by sharing my experiences and questioning their assumptions. I have to be careful not to preach or deride. I must keep in mind that wisdom is not taught, it is gained – with a little help from our friends – through taking risks, making mistakes, learning from those mistakes and choosing a better path. In essence life is an experiment.

Finally, I try to keep in mind that my heartbeats are my ultimate, personal, non-renewable resource. I want to use them wisely, so I am choosey about with whom I hang out.

Remember: Life is good!

What is your experience of being an aging leader? If you are a Millennial reading this, what comes up for you. What is your greatest source of pleasure these days? I would love to hear your thoughts!


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Dr. Jim Sellner, PhD. DipC.

Dr. Jim Sellner is Executive Coach and Author of Leadership for Einsteins
He serves Top Executives to Help them Clear their Blind Spots
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter |  Web | Skype: drjimsellner

Image Sources: mudpreacher.files.wordpress.com

L2L Contributing Author


  1. ramakrishnan6002 on December 16, 2014 at 7:10 am

    Reblogged this on Gr8fullsoul.

  2. Kendra Boland on December 16, 2014 at 10:22 am

    This is spot on. As an aging leader myself I can relate to your perspective and also strive for age appropriate healthy behavior. I am also wiser, more empathetic and understand that life is a journey for all of us. I have learned to not make assumptions or take anything personally. I know where I came from and know that younger generations need some mentoring. I have listened to upper managment chastise the younger workers by saying something is common sense; of course it is for us but not for a generation that is at the beginning of their journey.
    My greatest source of pleasure is reading a good book, working out at the gym (includes yoga), mentoring, and enjoying each day utilizing mindfulness.

  3. drjimsellner on December 16, 2014 at 11:08 am

    Thank you Kendra

  4. Karen Opalka on December 16, 2014 at 11:52 am

    I agree with Kendra’s post and can relate to this article very well. If any Millennials are reading this response they also need to meet their mentor half way and stop the rolling of their eyes and looking at their cell phones when in a meeting or meeting with someone who is just trying to help them.

  5. drjimsellner on December 16, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    Thank you Karen

  6. Grace on December 16, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    As a comfortably ensconced ‘Boomer’ I’m grateful for this well-stated reminder! Just yesterday I was feeling impatient and discouraged with the Gen X and Millenials I’m working to lead and train. While I will keep my insistence on ‘Doing the right thing’, I’ll try to step back from ‘Doing it the right (ie. MY tried and true) way!’

    Thank you!