Leadership is a process and skills can be developed over time, making leadership available to everyone (Northouse, 2016). If our up-and-coming leaders consider the process instead of the desired title or position, age, or years of experience, will be beneficial in climbing to the top. Some traits that are positively associated with leadership are directly related to a leader’s ability to rise to the occasion, make decisions, accept consequences, tolerate challenges and influence others (PSU WC, 2020, L. 2). The layers of leadership experience and practice that come with age are necessary to prepare our future leaders for success.
Age brings all sorts of changes to our lives; some are welcomed, and others are not. Hopefully, for most, age brings experience, maturity, responsibility and knowledge. It brings a sense of self-assurance and confidence that you have the wherewithal to persevere, no matter what. And when reflecting on the time that has passed, you gain the perspective that life is full of change – with or without your consent. If you want to be part of the change or attempt to guide it in a favorable direction, get involved now and take action.
Experienced leaders have climbed many mountains and they end up with a higher vantage point than their followers. They can see past all of the smaller mountains surrounding theirs, enabling their vision to be unobstructed by what’s closest to them. You’ll often hear this being referred to as “seeing the big picture.” These experienced leaders gain practical intelligence along the way, “a kind of ‘street smarts’ that allows people to know how to adapt to, shape, or select new situations in order to get their needs met” (PSU WC, 2020, L. 2, p. 8). Young professionals have not always traversed the same mountains at this point in their career and they don’t have the instincts that come with the challenges and setbacks of rough terrain. Equally as important, they haven’t reached the pinnacle to see far beyond their immediate circle or group with such clarity.
Certainly, there are exceptions to the rule, such as young and exceptional leaders like Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, Blake Ross, creator of Mozilla Firefox, Matthew Mullenweg, founder of the WordPress, and David Karp, founder of Tumblr, all of whom were 21 years old or younger when they started their companies (Clifford, 2020). In 2019, of the 493 major S&P 500 companies that filed corporate proxy statements in the first quarter, only 28 had CEOs under 50 years old (Cutter, 2019).
Young leaders might not have the social intelligence that’s needed to be an effective leader, but it can be gained over time. Social intelligence also requires leaders to look beyond emotional intelligence (which is perhaps the closest mountain) and see that past the emotions of others. Leaders need to interpret and address the situation that’s causing the emotions (PSU WC, 2020, L. 2). Again, developing a far reaching vision is significant to effective leadership.
With age comes maturity, “a trait evidenced within an individual’s professional and psychological persona through the way in which they exhibit an aptitude and a willingness to assume responsibility for managing their own behavior” (Canilho & Alves, 2010, as cited by Miskelly & Duncan, 2014, p. 45). When it comes to responsibility, it also grows with age. People purchase homes, cars, they have children and they feel the burden of responsibly that gives them the motivation to get to work every day. Before young professionals get to experience true responsibility, it may be hard to know what genuine ownership feels like. As a leader, you own the responsibility of the organization and your follows; a lot is riding on you.
Age should not be a barrier to leadership attainment, but it’s okay to happily embrace what comes with age. Life and leadership are about the journey, so get out there and start climbing! You’ll reach the top in due time.
Clifford, E. (2020). 16 young and successful entrepreneurs who prove that age is nothing but a number. Retrieved from https://www.lifehack.org/588440/16-young-and-successful-entrepreneurs-who-prove-that-age-is-nothing-but-a-number
Cutter, C. (2019). CEOs under 50 are a rare find in the s&p 500. The Wall Street Journal online. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/ceos-under-50-are-a-rare-find-in-the-s-p-500-11558517401
Miskelly, P., & Duncan, L. (2014). ‘I’m actually being the grown‐up now’: Leadership, maturity and professional identity development. Journal of Nursing Management, 22(1), 38-48. doi:10.1111/jonm.12030
Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and practice (7th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.
Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2020). PSYCH 485 Lesson 2: Trait Approach. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/2015147/modules/items/29089120