Leading Old

Let me be quick to say that I am not old-right? I am only 53. I remember when that sounded really old-and it sure didn’t take long to get here. And in some ways I am beginning to feel my age these days-mainly after a long run.

Lately I have begun to consider more carefully my leadership life and what my legacy might be. I am pondering what leading at an older age looks like. It can certainly mean that your organizational superior is younger than you. It can also mean that your “leadership peers” are younger than you. Fears may begin to creep in about what is next. You may wonder if you are still as “needed” as you seemed to be a few years ago. You may be less in demand and need to forge your own path like never before. I am blessed to currently be in a great leadership environment here in Italy. I have a lot of freedom tied to strong organizational vision. I am being challenged to stay fresh and remain a learner. And I am being held accountable for my leadership foundation.

I need to think about “leading old” more-but here are three observations for now. And let me encourage you to think these through even if you are a twenty, thirty or forty something in leadership. It’s never too early to consider your legacy.

1. Character matters now more than ever.
Paul’s admonition to Timothy was to finish well. More than ever I want be a part of that group that breaks the tape with confidence and courage. Godly character is at the heart of Christ-centered leadership. The problem with character is that it is never instantaneous-it is built over many years. So what you do day by day really matters. But make no mistake-it is your character that will get you to the finish line. It will be your intact character that will matter to you most when you reach fifty and beyond.

2. Don’t leave a list of accomplishments; leave a leader legacy.
Sometimes when leaders get older they want to be remembered for what they have done. That’s why so many buildings get named after people-to keep the cherished memory of a lifetime in front of people. But it is far more important for the Kingdom of God that you raise up more leaders that can take your place than monuments to your namesake. Look for younger, promising leaders-and invest heavily in them. Create space for them to spread their leadership wings. Certainly apply the “he who is faithful in little” principle-but begin to entrust significant responsibilities to those who can and will lead the future. Leave a leader legacy.

3. Lead from an environment of organizational values and calling towards innovation; not from tradition towards stagnation.
Some leaders as they grow older want to strongly maintain the status quo. This can arise out of fear. This can arise out of pride-that you are older and more experienced-therefore you know best. This can arise out of wanting to protect your accomplishment legacy. To entertain others innovative ideas may mean that you are forgotten. But truly your elder role is to help people around you stay true to values and calling-and then empower them to live that out in fresh and effective ways towards their mission field.

I believe I am in the best years of my leadership life. But these are also dangerous years-evidenced by how many leaders fail in many ways later in life. I am on a journey of discovery-I will keep you posted.

2 responses to “Leading Old

  1. Thank you for these comments, Gary. Recently, I’ve been wanting to talk with folks a bit older than me about their experiences with leadership, especially in a college ministry context. Your comments, especially the first two, are helpful.

    And thank you for your birthday wishes–I think that’s what they were (they were in Italian)–nearly 3 months later and just getting them today!

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