Why Old Leaders Drive Young Leaders Crazy
Old leaders think they know something today because they knew something yesterday. Knowledge closes their minds and limits their curiosity.
Young leaders look down their noses at old leaders and think, “Stop being set in your ways. Fear controls you!”
Young leaders feel superior to old leaders because technology is easy for them. Old leaders devalue the power of passion and vigor out of envy and fear.
Protecting what is:
Old leaders are so busy clinging to what they have that can’t reach for what could be. New ideas are threats not opportunities. Young leaders lose passion when old leaders say, “We’ve always done it that way.
Old leaders don’t realize the devastation of destroying youthful energy.
12 tips for old leaders:
- Jumping through hoops is a stupid strategy for keeping people in their place and out of your hair.
- Stop speaking for young leaders. Invite them to meetings and let them speak for themselves. (Prepare them for the lion’s den.)
- The good ole boys club is on it’s way out. Technology undermines exclusivity.
- Find ways to feel good about letting others try things. Why say, “No,” when you could say, “Yes.”
- Channel passion. Don’t block it. Energy is easily quenched.
- Stay curious. Thinking you know is deadly.
- Rushing to judgement devalues people.
- Your opinion creates conformity. Keep it to yourself longer. People tell you what you want to hear.
- Chill out with the suit and tie thing.
- Stop thinking you have to fix everything.
- Don’t hover and don’t stand aloof. Check-in once in awhile.
- Collaboration is the future. It’s dumb to say, “Don’t come to me with problems unless you have solutions.” Explore options with others. Don’t sit back like a judge on high and make decisions from a distance.
Bonus: A good word from you ignites courage.
How can old leaders tap into the power and advantage of youth?
As a middle-aged (a young-feeling 55) leader of engineering in cutting edge technology, I am acutely aware of:
1) The much better formal education younger people have than I received for the same degree.
2) The narrow scope of their education that needs to be supplemented with lifelong learning.
3) My responsibility to help them develop in their formative years, to give them more responsibility and demand more of them than their comfort zone would suggest, while helping them to achieve.
4) The value of being oneself, self-deprecation, and humor to reduce the gap in years.
5) The power that has been conferred on my position, where a few words of encouragement or thanks can make their day, and an off-hand remark or insensitivity can ruin it.
I am often impressed by the intelligence and creativity of young leaders and their desire to be engaged in meaningful work. I am concerned about their bravado, self-centeredness, unnecessary risk-taking or risk avoidance, and inability to view problems through multiple frameworks, leading to less than optimal decisions.
It was only an eye-blink ago that I was young. In another whisper of breeze I will be old, then gone from this world. It is my duty, and that of my generation, to run a good race, train other runners, and pass the torch.
Wow Marc, well said. Good summary of a lot of my thoughts, and good reminders for me.
KaPow! Thanks Marc. I love how you come at this topic from multiple angles.
I was thinking about the narrow scope of their education as it relates to the experience of older workers. Experience may be best leveraged in HOW to be and interact. Don’t tell you leaders WHAT to do. Help them with how to be.
I agree with this completely. As I watch my husband, which by the way is the same age, go through all the struggles. I continue to tell him his role is now to be the wise ole leader, siphon all the young energy and sharpness into great men women. The last two paragraphs hit, I think, all of what I have been saying to him right on the head.
Thanks for you comment.
Well Marc, By saying than young leaders are unnecessary risk takers, is really judging all of them with that age old ideology that those without experience takes a lot of unnecessary risks, which is of course a biased view which often lead to a lot of problems between young and old leaders, if you where trying to avoid this. get rid of the assumptions.
Author is: Justice Ndou
Interesting.. today is Pope Frances one year Anniversary, although I’m not a Catholic, I follow his activity closely. I see him as young until I look at him, then I realize he’s old. ..my take away — some portion of the young/old ratio is how we choose to look at life, problems, environments…
I hope that doesn’t sound old! 😉
Hi Ken. I’m with you. I’ve chosen the term youthful to describe what I want the organization I lead to look and feel like. When I say “young” it has an age connotation. When I say, “youthful” it has an attitudinal feel.
Being…NOT young…at first this post depressed me. But then I thought of how my former high school students and I collaborate. When I reach a technology wall, they come to my aid and help me breakthrough. When they need advice about a situation in their personal or work life, they contact me. When they have a success, I am one of the first people they want to tell. Vice versa. Respect flows both ways.
We have much to learn from one another. Clever people realize that and we all succeed.
Thanks Dauna. You exemplify the shift in leadership from top-down hierarchy to collaborative leadership. Hanging on to old structures makes old leaders old. Embracing the new is youthful.
Well I will say it again maybe one time it will stick.
The key turning point is a human being having an open and nimble mind, not age.
A young person with a closed mind is as useless an old geezer with a odes mind.
Age has nothing to do with this topic.
Just my opinion just because I feel this passionately and state it clearly means no ill will.
Thanks Scott. Point made.
And a good point at that.
Dang typos!!! An old geezer with a closed mind!!!
As an older IT leader of a team of young bright talent, I realized what I could do is clear roadblocks for the guys, and give them guidance — a bit like firing rockets at a problem.
At one point I had to decide if I would be the bottleneck to try to control everything, or trust them and be the facilitator
Thanks Bill. So glad you brought the term ‘bottleneck’ to the conversation. Old leaders would hate to think of themselves as bottlenecks. But, in this area, holding back young talent is exactly what ti is. Nice add
I picked up the book Invictus ( for the rugby story ) but I find the first half is about Nelson Mandela and how from a position of weakness he used leadership skills to change the world.
Like Billgncs, I find myself in a similar position. My role as a “more mature” leader is to clear the way, open doors, grease the relationships so “my” younger guys can demonstrate their abilities and creativity. They have skills and abilities I do not possess and I have experience within the organization which they do not have. Working together as a team is a blessing for us all!
Bingo!! Thanks McSteve.
I love #8 – all leaders need to be aware of the power their words have. I particularly enjoyed reading both Marc’s and Ken Mason’s replies too – great stuff.
Thanks Jeanine. #8 is a balancing act. People want and need to know what leaders think. One way to stay active in the conversation without exerting too much control is to say, “I like where you’re going with that… tell me more.” An affirmation give people enough confidence to keep talking but doesn’t control the direction of the conversation so much.
Am a mother in my mid-fifties, a practising GP and now working towards my PhD in mangement Have two young sons aged 20 plus. I’ve always encouraged my sons to explore and look at life differently. There is two face to a coin. When I meet the younger generation, I would always try to open their minds and listen. We may be old and ? wise, but that does not mean we close our minds to suggestions. Everyone has a different perspective in thinking which is new ,innovative and creative . Whether young or old, one must always be open minded. There is always new things to learn! The world is a sea of knowledge whether from the old or new generation. My work allows me to have contact with people, and am sad to say that I encounter a young generation full of bubbling ideas but unfortunately subjected to a life of silence! Even as an oldie, am subjected sometimes to silence. Therefore, I think its the mentality.
Thanks Choong. I get the feel that a closed mind is something young or old can have. Great thought.
Dan, I would be fascinated to know what stimulated these two posts on old/young leadership. Over the years I’ve seen some such dissonance, but not often. In my mind, the age factor has more to do with seasoning than anything. The older leader has simply been at it longer and (hopefully) acquired broader experience. We see this is classical music all the time. A hotshot young soloist may have technique to burn, accompanied by a unique voice, but it is only over time and experience that those two factors really come together. But back to my original question, though. These two posts have the ring of personal experience.
Thanks Steven. There’s some of me in all the posts I write. I have experience with integrating young / new leaders in organizations. It’s sad when organizations keep young leaders at arms length. In some ways keeping the young away destroys our future.
But, it’s not all gravy. As some have indicated here, technical knowldege is one thing. But, young leaders find it difficult to connect with others and build the team. There’s a tension between the need to make a mark and learning to work through others.
I could go on and on… It’s an important topic as our population ages.
Thanks for asking and for reading between the lines.
Loved your comment in the context of classical music. Reality for you, a great analogy for me 🙂 Thanks!
Leaders build leaders. Love this post Dan. It’s up to us old farts to ignite the passion in future leaders.
Thanks Diana. You said a mouth full. .. Leaders build leaders. Figure out how to tap into young talent…don’t roadblock it… build it.
I continue to notice how easily and quickly we can put out someone’s fire. It’s pretty tough to build leaders when you are quenching their flame at the same time.
I understand you’re generalizing us “old leaders” to make your point in the article but there are quite a few of us “old leaders” who have evolved with the times, have kept up with technology, do not fear, fear itself, have an open mind to new ideas and thoughts and am very proud to say I never told someone that is a stupid question, understand engagement and discussion and enjoy watching the success of others we’ve mentored. With that said so many of us have been told to get on and ride the carousel just because we’ve hit 50 and now the chatter is the pending talent gap in the manufacturing sector. Don’t judge books by their cover, open them up first and read the content.
The approach to leadership has undergone several paradigm shifts over the last century. The “old boys club” and command and control forms of leadership are no longer effective. Leadership has become an emergent property where a group of individuals bring their expertise together in pursuit of a shared goal. Leadership is now cooperative with the leader playing the role of coach and supporter with an emphasis on the individual working under them.
I’m reminded of Ella Baker, the elder in the US civil rights movement who took a stand in support of the youth (who became the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), who were the foot soldiers in small towns throughout the south taking the risks and transforming the US. She is my role model as I work with young leaders today. I support them as they need and stay out of their way otherwise. If I’m useful, the time soon comes when I am merely the joyful cheerleader.
I love this bit;
“Old leaders devalue the power of passion and vigor out of envy and fear.”
I have come up against this so many times and had never been able to realise it for what it was.
I’m with Witzshared though in that (of course) not all old leaders are the same and I have been bowled over by the wisdom, charisma and quiet craft of some.
Great article. Thanks.
Albert Einstein said “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” As a leader, I pray every day, please God, do not let me be a mediocre mind!
#10-Stop thinking you have to fix everything. It can be tough to let others do the work, but that is just giving you other opportunities to explore.
We’ll Dan… This works for leadership across levels. There is much to be said for wisdom. This can lie gently on the shoulders of an old leader, especially one who has seen much of the world, and the young who wants to change it, arrogance can lie equally heavy on the shoulders of a young leader who wants to change the world just because he/she thinks change is required, often forgetting that it the nature of the change that is important. So is the manner of implementation of the change!
“Age and guile beat youth, inexperience and a bad haircut.”
Neither young nor old have a corner on the market for good leadership practices however adept at new technology young leaders are. The belief that you can categorize leadership by tenure when the heart of leadership is about values. Get those right and the rest is fine.
I’ve always said the people who “think they know” are the most dangerous.
Thanks Enna. Great saying!
I enjoyed this conversation. Thank you for a great post! Are there any “young bloods” in the conversation, or is it just “wise elders” pontificating? Two books that are on my “browsed… to finish” book pile (see, I am an old fart) are Mindset (are you growth mindset or fixed mindset… and guess what, you CAN change) and Falling Upwards (how to live the second half of your life… which is usually for older people, but not always). In both of these works, it’s not about our age in years but the way to approach things. I think there are many older leaders who have all the creativity and passion of youth (take a look at Robert Ballard and his work on exploring oceans)… they have a growth mindset and know how to fall upwards.
Perhaps, too, young leaders don’t realize there’s a reason things are being done the way they are. Some older leaders are resistant to change, but others may be seeing if they don’t have something to offer they’re as obsolete as the Conestoga horse (now extinct). Perhaps the best leaders come from taking that youthful energy and combining it with the wisdom of the older leaders.