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Wise Leadership: Putting Your Energy Where It Counts

“Leadership is not the private reserve of a few charismatic men and women. It is a process ordinary people use when they are bringing forth the best from themselves and others.”

—James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, The Leadership Challenge

Between 1946 and 1964, 76 million births occurred in the United States. In the 1960s, the sheer number of baby boomers created a youth culture that continues to haunt us today. Remember the slogan, “Never trust anyone over 30?” Unfortunately, we seem to have created the very culture that now offends us with its ageism. We are suffering from our own creation.

We still have a chance to reverse ageism and create a legacy for our generation if enough of us step up and become leaders in our communities. As older adults, we can afford to spend less energy on promoting ourselves and our careers and more energy on solving our community problems. As experienced individuals, we have a great deal to contribute. Our wisdom is a national resource. And as in the 1960s, our numbers give us power. That power can make a tremendous difference to our society if we use it for the common good.

Even if we have not worked in positions of leadership in the past, we have the potential to become leaders. In Leading with Experience: Engaging Older Adults as Community Leaders, Experience Corps identifies leadership skills that may be particularly strong in the second half of life: determination, persistence, patience, judgment, a positive outlook and an ability to develop new approaches to solving complex problems. These qualities provide a strong base for stepping up to leadership in our communities.

The characteristics that lead us to creativity in problem-solving—curiosity, playfulness, eagerness, fearlessness, warmth, and energy—are not solely the traits of the young. In Geeks and Geezers, authors Warren G. Bennis and Robert J. Thomas make a convincing case that older, experienced leaders can combine the value of experience with the positive qualities of youth. After interviewing over 40 leaders, half under age 35 and half over age 70, to understand the characteristics of transformational leaders, they found that the geezers remained much like the geeks—open, willing to take risks, hungry for knowledge and experience, courageous and eager to see what each new day brings.

Many people assume having vision is an inborn trait, but being visionary can be learned. Building a vision is a step-by-step process that comes from developing a clear sense of where we want to go and how we intend to get there.

Passion about a topic is probably the first step to building a vision. Knowledge of the topic also helps. Becoming aware of the larger picture surrounding the topic and learning about resources that are available provide the context in which we can build a strategy and find solutions.

We don’t have to do it alone. Leadership training, such as the Evolve: Re-igniting Self & Community course, can help harness our passion, build our vision, and create our legacy.

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