Thoughts on how 50+ professionals can help create a new leadership culture

Paul Donaher was most recently Senior Managing Director of Apple Inc.’s MARCOM (Marketing and Communications division). He has spent over 35 years as an executive leader in many creative businesses and currently leads Paul Donaher Advisory, helping creative companies optimize culture and nurture better leadership

He has some unique views on how 50+ professionals can play a critical role in shaping their companies.

Here are his 5 topline thoughts, as well as an article that he authored for Fast Company.

How can 50+ year olds, like you, help shape better leadership cultures?

The number of people in the workplace like you is higher than it’s ever been. Most are seasoned, savvy and dedicated professionals with so much to offer. What are a few things that you and others like you can consider to maximize your potential and help build outstanding leadership cultures? 

1. Don’t assume you have all the answers.

 It’s often assumed that older folks naturally know more and that they’re just wiser. But that isn’t necessarily the case. So, how do you make sure that you are one of the wise ones, able to positively influence what’s to come? You must start by recognizing that creating a great leadership culture that can thrive today and tomorrow is a collaborative effort. You need to be open and curious, invite the thinking of younger generations who are changing the way the world works and who are innovating at a rate never seen before. The ability to meld all that you know and that you’ve learned (your wisdom) with the fresh thoughts and ideas of those who come after, will help create leadership cultures that will flourish and withstand the test of time.

In his best-selling book, Wisdom at Work, author Chip Conley puts it this way,

“Historically, wisdom flowed downhill. But today, for the first time, we are seeing the power of an intergenerational transfer of wisdom that flows in both directions.” 

2. Be crystal clear about your criteria for what great leadership is. 

To help create a great leadership culture, you need to be able to define what great leadership means to you (that doesn’t mean you aren’t open to evolving, just know where you’re starting from).  Many leaders of longstanding have never taken the time to articulate formally how they lead or what they think is important. They’ve simply done it. But codifying it allows you to share concretely your perspective with others, create a dialogue, and ultimately influence leadership behavior.

When I was at Apple, I was asked to speak to employees about “leading with heart”. Apparently, that was how others viewed my leadership style. I had not thought about my leadership in exactly that way before. The request got me thinking about what “leading with heart” really meant to me, what were the specific qualities of my leadership that had elicited the request in the first place. The result was an article, and yes a speech, about leading with heart. It’s something I now use religiously when I work with clients as a springboard for discussion and as a starting point for helping them to build the kind of culture that’s right for them.

3. Offer yourself as a mentor.

Don’t underestimate the power you have to influence the leadership culture of your company beyond the role you’re currently in. Informally, assume the role of mentor for an individual (or two) who you view as the next generation of leaders. Meet with them regularly, listen, offer them perspective, help them to refine and hone their own leadership profile. Little by little, person by person, you can help create a stronger, better leadership culture.

4. Don’t retire from your company. Reinvent yourself for the next chapter there. 

This might be slightly harder to achieve. But I’ve seen it work and it can work beautifully. 

Ask your company to consider your second act; developing their next generation of leaders. 

Too many companies are letting their best leaders and their best candidates to cultivate future leaders slip into retirement, not focusing on the value they are letting walk out the door. Start a dialogue with your HR or People head. Develop a plan for how retirement age leaders can fill the coaching vacuum with the skills, knowledge and empathy that only they possess. 

Most companies rely on outside executive coaches to work with their leadership teams. Often, these are professional coaches with limited actual leadership experience, and rarely if ever have work experience within the client company. 

You, and others like you, can be the key to shaping and honing your company’s leadership future.

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