Wisdom//

The Politics of Age

Standing at the crossroads of either fear or gratitude, we all have choices. These choices define our characters, legacies, and whether we contribute to, or detract from, the common good.

It’s time to pull back the curtain on age, power, and politics. America’s best possible future requires that we understand the subtle, hidden elements of the fear of aging–and that we adopt a model of succession planning for our families, organizations, communities and nation based on Legacy Leadership and Intergenerational Collaboration.

As business professionals, politicians, and parents get older, they’re faced with some of life’s most profound choices. On the one hand, they can pay it forward by becoming stewards of the common good—that is, mentoring, championing, and supporting a new crop of bright, talented, and diverse young leaders to rise up, work with, and succeed them. I call this Legacy Leadership. Or, they can live in fear of obsolescence by hoarding the powers and position they’ve gained to subvert new leaders and maintain control. I call this Dinosaur Leadership.

Whether you’re an elder faced with this choice; watching an aging parent, doctor, lawyer, friend, and/or boss change as he or she gets older; or hoping the newly elected House of Representatives is going to fare well, it’s probably clear that some of us navigate the transitions of aging like succession planning better than others. Those who find the courage and strength to gracefully face rather than deny, repress, and avoid change, tend to adjust to the realities of getting older much better. Learning to contain their fears, face down their insecurities, and make peace with life itself, they are inclined to pay the good in their lives forward to coming generations.

But those individuals who thwart and resist change and do everything in their power to maintain control . . . do so at great cost. Desperately clinging to the status, identity, and power they fear is under threat, and grieving the loss of their younger selves, they wall themselves off from the world—and the future. Lost in this Dinosaur Leadership equation are opportunities for game-changing, life-affirming innovations, collaboration, adaptation, and progress.

Models of personal integrity, of courageous aging, exist in our families, communities, nation, and world. Examples of forward-thinking athletes, professionals, and community leaders who are entering their elder years by making seamless transitions are all around us. So are visionary CEOs who are sharing intergenerational power, experience, creativity, and leadership in their companies. And so are parents who put their legal, financial and psychological and spiritual houses in order via good estate planning, and leaving a legacy of love, rather than one of chaos.

Wise elders who recognize the need for succession planning and intergenerational collaboration in their businesses, political parties, and families take great care in mentoring the next generation, and winding down their roles in a timely, purposeful manner. By embracing the winds of change, reimagining their own futures, repurposing their knowledge and skills, renewing their own sense of purpose, discovering new frontiers, and seeing the opportunities that go far beyond their own lifetimes, they are able to let go.

On the other hand, people in our lives, and in the public arena, who go kicking and screaming into elderhood, acting out the unconscious elements of fear and avoidance, represent a threat to us and our nation. Whether they’re divisive elected officials claiming to be guardians of America’s best possible future, coworkers claiming to be genuinely concerned about the well-being of a company, family members claiming to be worried about aging parents, or community leaders claiming to be advocates of the common good, we must unmask Dinosaur Leaders, organizations, and political parties. Their goal is to maintain power, control, and the status quo.  

Driven by their fears, they are not interested in yielding power to those who stand ready, willing, and able to succeed them.

Standing at the crossroads of either fear or gratitude, we all have choices. These choices define our characters, legacies, and whether we contribute to, or detract from, the common good. So let’s choose the path of integrity by coming to terms with life’s changing seasons, creating strong intergenerational partnerships and letting go of control through effective succession planning. Let’s boldly (but respectfully and compassionately) call out those masquerading behind the fear of aging . . . to our collective detriment. And rededicate ourselves to becoming the courageously aging parents, politicians, and business and community leaders who identify, mentor, and support our future leaders—regardless of age, race, religion, or gender—and who know when it’s time to step aside, allowing others their moments in the sun.

(In Part II of The Politics of Age, I will explore the core elements of Legacy Leadership and Intergenerational Collaboration in greater detail)

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