We seemingly live in a society that worships daily at the altar of the cult of the young. From our favorite athletes, to popular models and entertainment stars, and even local newscasters, we are constantly bombarded with youthful images. Even our advertising stresses the importance of maintaining an appearance that is perpetually young. Due to these influences, those that are younger are now often perceived to be healthier, more intelligent, flexible, innovative and active based solely on their chronological age.
While there are indeed some activities where youth does have some obvious advantages, when it comes to leadership, this drive to embrace youthfulness over other qualities is a dangerous trend. At every level of government, in every corporation, and in every community there is a real need, all over the world, to find leaders that are more diverse and representative of the populations which they serve.
When we think about achieving a more fair and balanced leadership, we tend to think in terms of achieving greater diversity in gender, ethnicity and socio-economic backgrounds, but it would be wise to also seek greater diversity in terms of age when we seek leaders to represent us. Our society has become so obsessed with being young that we run the real danger of limiting ourselves and others when we begin to believe the lie that those who are older are simply too old to lead.
After all, those that have lived to become older have acquired several advantages over those that are younger simply by the mere act of their survival. As the famed American journalist, David Brooks, so eloquently points out, “we get better at life as we get older”. Many of the skills that we develop over the course of living our lives are similar to the skills that we sharpen and polish in order to effectively lead.
While popular culture would like for us to believe that those who are older are slower and resistant to change, the truth of the matter is that older individuals have an edge when it comes to obtaining and developing several important leadership skills. Based on their life experiences, older individuals generally tend to have greater self-awareness, experience, opportunities for character development, are more reliable and dependable, have greater focus and larger stores of wisdom. Having these skills can literally mean the difference between success and failure.
If you’ve been feeling overwhelmed at the sight of all of these youthful images, take heart, and don’t let your age determine the choices that you make for yourself and others. Don’t use your age as an excuse to limit yourself and cause you and others to miss out on benefitting from your experience. As the feminist activist Betty Freidan so wisely stated, “Ageing is not lost youth, but a new stage of opportunity and strength”.
If you find that you’ve acquired a few wrinkles and gray hairs over the years, don’t let these physical signs of aging hold you back and cause you to falsely believe that you are too old to lead. Embrace the experience and knowledge that you have gained from your past and use it to benefit yourself and others as you break from the pack and lead the way forward.