On Aging and Leadership

by Mark Fisher

Students of the human brain are aware that different cognitive abilities peak at different times in life.

Younger brains are more agile. They have more of what’s called “fluid intelligence.” Younger brains have lots of youthful vigor and energy. They have an easier time innovating. They’re less grooved into certain patterns of thought.

Older brains tend to be better at pattern recognition. They have more of what’s called “crystallized intelligence.” What they lack in stamina they make up for in efficient analysis, hard won with years of experience.

There are of course exceptions. All brains are different. But on balance, if you’re looking for someone to work heroic hours and think outside the box, you’re usually looking at a younger individual.

But in a society that worships youth, there’s less appreciation for the superpowers that take time to mature. And some of those superpowers become very helpful as a leader.

This isn’t to say you can’t be an effective leader at a younger age. And it certainly doesn’t mean everyone over 40-years-old is a great leader. 

In fact, the older we get, the harder it can be to stay flexible and open to feedback. Since each relationship and each context is different, being able to size up what’s going on and effectively adapt is a core requirement of effective leadership. And stagnation is more commonly associated with an experienced leader who thinks they “know the ropes.”

On the other hand, many of the component skills of leadership are hard to develop without getting your reps in over time.

If you can’t recruit, hire, train, manage, develop, lead, compensate, and inspire other humans to devote their soulforce to a shared mission and a mutually beneficial relationship… it’s kinda hard to go on vacation and trust your gym can run without you. 

As you think about your role in your training gym, consider the strengths and challenges of your current season of life.

If you’re on the younger side, it can be intimidating when most of your clients and employees are older than you. I remember what this was like. But take heart. It may be easier for you to be flexible, adaptable, and more comfortable with changing things up.

And if you’re smoothly moving through middle age, fret not. Don’t shed a tear because you need a bit longer to recharge and no longer can –– or want to –– work 15 hour a day. Instead appreciate the benefits of your experience. So long as you’re committed to lifelong growth, you’re continuing to season your powers of strategy and empathy and worldliness.

Remember, business leaders can peak in their 70’s and even 80’s. 

No matter your age or level of experience, you’ve got a long and wonderful road of growth and progress ahead.

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