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Henley Leadership Group Blog

The Leadership Superpowers That Improve With Time


The good news is that as you age and come into your own, you gain a few new superpowers.

In a world that’s often enamored with what’s hip, new, novel and trending, it’s not surprising that many people dread growing older. If you are over 40, you may question whether you are still keeping up with things or worry that you’re already falling behind.

Instead, you’d do well to consider that your gifts and contribution as a leader expand as you age. Don’t shrink or silence yourself because you fear you have become irrelevant. We need leaders with wisdom and experience to inform and address the complexities we face. 

I recently interviewed Andrea Carlisle, author of a just released book entitled, There Was an Old Woman: Reflections on These Strange, Surprising, Shining Years. Andrea is finding her later years to be an extraordinary and interesting time. Through story, she inquires into the sources of negativity about the aging process — in literature and art, as well as the received wisdom that often leads people to dread what is in fact a transformative time of life. It’s a great read. 

Part of what Andrea illuminates is the expanded creativity and non-attachment that can come with age. Creativity in leadership is essential if you want your team to innovate and try things they’ve not tried before. The trouble with encouraging creativity is that, often, your team members think they have to do it right, or even perfect. Yet perfection is the enemy of innovation. You can’t do something perfectly that you’ve never done before. 

This is common sense. You have to be willing to enter into the thing and do it badly until you learn the basics. Only then can you improve upon your initial efforts. But if you expect perfection from yourself or your team at the outset, you are setting yourself up for heartburn. 

The good news is that as you age and come into your own, you gain a new superpower – a greater willingness to take chances, fewer concerns about what others might think about you, and a sense that you have less to lose if you mess up. All of this adds up to more creativity.

In her book, Andrea writes about learning to draw during the lockdown days of the pandemic and the freedom of letting go of expectations: 

“When I started drawing, I didn’t have to be perfect. I could just play. In playing, I found that sometimes I improved, sometimes I didn’t. Either way, it didn’t matter. It was more about being with my number 2 pencil and my very old sketchbook found in a drawer and seeing what I could make.”

Can you be the kind of leader who challenges her team to do their jobs playfully, looking through the lens of exploration, curiosity and learning? Are you able to lead like this? 

Part of what’s essential is a mindset that says, if this goes awry and doesn’t work, then I’ll learn how to let it go. What the effort did produce in that case, though, is non-attachment. A new perspective. Calm in the face of failure. An ability to be okay with not checking everything off of your daily list.

Wise leadership is all about being open to what comes. Give yourself permission to do it wrong, messy, imperfect. Then see what happens. 

Let go of rules and rigidity. There are no winners or losers in this space. What if you didn’t have to prove anything to anyone just for today? What if you could learn and try again and see that as enough for the day? 

Becoming wise as a leader is a journey worth taking. Andrea’s book can help. You may have to learn some things, but mostly, you’ll have to unlearn. Question your motives, your needs, your beliefs. Offer your wisdom from a place of being wide open. This is the contribution that the world needs — curious, calm and creative leadership.

Previously published on ForbesI