“Better was a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice.” If King Solomon wrote these words in Ecclesiastes, as is widely assumed, perhaps as an old king he was remembering one of his days that was less than stellar. On April Fools’ Day, let’s consider a few of the ways that older leaders may avoid foolishness. Younger leaders will also profit by preparing for the days when these lessons will inevitably apply to them.
- Be who you are. If you’ve watched Antiques Roadshow, you’ve listened as appraisers break the news to owners that removing the patina from items resulted in the loss of value. Older leaders who try to make themselves shiny often discover that they have sacrificed their most cherished qualities. The patina of leadership is made of a thousand lessons learned, many through painful experiences.
- Prize relevance; avoid imitation. The etymology of “relevance” traces in Latin to “helpful.” Relevance is expressed by leaders who understand the significance of opportunities and challenges and help their teams walk through those moments. When leaders believe that relevance is found by imitating the voices and actions of a younger generation, they—unfortunately and unknowingly—careen toward irrelevance.
- Be a lifelong learner. The old and foolish king in Ecclesiastes missed the mark because he neglected significant advice. The patina of leadership for older leaders improves with age if the person listens, watches, and learns.
- Enjoy life. Leaders of any age avoid grumpiness by treasuring the people within their circle of relationships. The circle of relationships for grumpy old leaders is small, for good reason.
Happy April Fools’ Day—especially to older readers.
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