Many leaders view retirement – whether a few years or a few decades away – as a finish line.
But increasingly these leaders, especially for those who are closer to retirement, are finding that being too young to retire but too old to find a job has become a critical issue.
Retirement doesn’t have to be the last great thing a leader does. It can be the gateway to a leader’s greatest season of influence.
We may live ten years longer than our parents and may even work twenty years longer, yet power is moving to those ten years younger.
Are leaders in this age group facing a decades long “irrelevancy gap”?
THE QUICK SUMMARY – Wisdom @ Work: The Making of a Modern Elder by Chip Conley
Experience is making a comeback. Learn how to repurpose your wisdom.
At age 52, after selling the company he founded and ran as CEO for 24 years, rebel boutique hotelier Chip Conley was looking at an open horizon in midlife. Then he received a call from the young founders of Airbnb, asking him to help grow their disruptive start-up into a global hospitality giant. He had the industry experience, but Conley was lacking in the digital fluency of his 20-something colleagues. He didn’t write code, or have an Uber or Lyft app on his phone, was twice the age of the average Airbnb employee, and would be reporting to a CEO young enough to be his son. Conley quickly discovered that while he’d been hired as a teacher and mentor, he was also in many ways a student and intern. What emerged is the secret to thriving as a mid-life worker: learning to marry wisdom and experience with curiosity, a beginner’s mind, and a willingness to evolve, all hallmarks of the “Modern Elder.”
In a world that venerates the new, bright, and shiny, many of us are left feeling invisible, undervalued, and threatened by the “digital natives” nipping at our heels. But Conley argues that experience is on the brink of a comeback. Because at a time when power is shifting younger, companies are finally waking up to the value of the humility, emotional intelligence, and wisdom that come with age. And while digital skills might have only the shelf life of the latest fad or gadget, the human skills that mid-career workers possess–like good judgment, specialized knowledge, and the ability to collaborate and coach – never expire.
Part manifesto and part playbook, Wisdom@Work ignites an urgent conversation about ageism in the workplace, calling on us to treat age as we would other type of diversity. In the process, Conley liberates the term “elder” from the stigma of “elderly,” and inspires us to embrace wisdom as a path to growing whole, not old. Whether you’ve been forced to make a mid-career change, are choosing to work past retirement age, or are struggling to keep up with the millennials rising up the ranks, Wisdom@Work will help you write your next chapter.
A SIMPLE SOLUTION
You don’t have to be on the other side of fifty to find the concept of becoming a “Modern Elder” relevant. The age at which we’re feeling self-consciously “old” is now creeping into some people’s thirties.
Digital platforms are disrupting virtually all industries, and the result is that more and more companies are relentlessly pursuing young hires, seemingly placing high DQ (digital intelligence) above all other skills.
The problem is that many of these young digital leaders are being thrust into positions of power with little experience or guidance.
At the same time, there exists a generation of older workers with invaluable skills – high EQ (emotional intelligence), good judgment born out of decades of experience, specialized knowledge, and a vast network of contacts.
Many of us feel like we’re growing whole rather than growing old. What if there was a new, modern archetype of elderhood, one that was worn as a badge of honor, not cloaked in shame?
With more generations in the workplace than ever before, elders have so much to offer those younger than them.
What if Modern Elders were the secret ingredient for the visionary organizations of tomorrow? What lessons must a Modern Elder learn?
If we’re too wedded to the past and to the costume of a traditional elder – making wise pronouncements from the pulpit – we aren’t likely to grow much of a congregation.
As we enter midlife, we embark upon a creative evolution that amplifies our specialness while editing out the extraneous. After a lifetime of accumulation, we can concentrate on what we do best, what gives us meaning, and what we want to leave behind.
Sometimes, reframing your identity is not an internal shift in your values, but an external rearranging of your life to once again give priority to that which is most life-affirming for you.
There is great value in adopting a beginner’s mind and how to use this fresh perspective to increase your ability to learn.
Our world is awash in knowledge, but often wanting in wisdom. To stay relevant, it’s not just about learning something new, it’s also about learning new ways to access the information at our fingertips.
Teaching and learning are symbiotic. You can’t be a teaching legend without living on the learning edge.
By leveraging your ability to collaborate, you can make something bigger.
With five generations in today’s workplace, we can either operate as separate isolationist countries with generation-specific dialects and talents coexisting on one continent, or we can find ways to bridge these generational borders and delight in learning from people both older and younger than us.
A byproduct of being seen as the elder at work is becoming the confidant of younger employees who want to bathe in your fountain of wisdom and are likely to be more candid with you as they don’t see you as a competitive threat.
While collaboration is a team sport, counseling is one-on-one, becoming a confident to your younger colleagues.
Smart companies know that while their competitors may outsource “counsel” to outside coaches who may offer some general wisdom, being a wise advisor can be so much more effective when an advisor is a wise elder who is in the trenches day to day with the advisee
Chip Conley, Wisdom @ Work: The Making of a Modern Elder
A NEXT STEP
Author Chip Conley devotes extensive help to leaders who want to go through the four lessons listed above. In order to get a taste of these resources, set aside some time to consider each of the following:
Ask a minimum of a half-dozen coworkers, friends, or family to answer the following question: “When you think of me in good times or bad, what are the core qualities that I exhibit? What are the positive ones? And what are the more challenging ones?”
Before you read anyone else’s answers, answer these yourself, being as candid as you can, knowing you don’t need to share this with anyone else.
Can you identify your identity? What are the durable traits or qualities you want your reputation built on? What qualities are you ready to part ways with?
The capacity for change with a ballast of continuity defines the Modern Elder.
While it contradicts the stereotype that older people become more narrow-minded and set in their ways, there’s glorious evidence that post-fifty, many elders return to a childlike sense of wonder.
- How can you become more curious?
- What’s a subject – unrelated to your work – in which you could become one of the world’s leading experts?
- How will your create necessary time in your schedule for wondering about the world?
Essential for a Modern Elder is the desire to experience something new and unexpected rather than regress into what is comfortable and familiar.
Your capacity to collaborate will improve if you create team norms that help everyone feel that the group is there to support you and the mission, as opposed to undermining you. Here are a few group norms that have proven to be effective:
- Try to encourage everyone to participate in group discussions, especially those representing diverse demographics and viewpoints.
- Lead by example by not interrupting teammates during conversations and giving credit to people for their earlier idea as you built upon it.
- Call out intergroup conflicts so you can resolve matters in person.
As a Modern Elder, we have the capacity to be a “first-class noticer,” paying close attention to what is happening around us, and helping make sure everyone on the team is contributing.
You may learn that your true value comes in those times when you get the counselor role right. Here are some best practices in counseling:
- Listen both to the story and for the story and beware of pre-judging.
- Assuming it feels appropriate, self-reveal something about your history that will help others understand they’re not alone.
- Prove your loyal – first and foremost by explicitly committing to confidentiality.
Spiritually radiant, physically vital, and socially responsible Modern Elders feel generative when they create the space for those younger than them to accelerate their learning by means of providing wise counsel.
Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader
Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.