The Role of a Modern Elder

I was intrigued by a talk I watched recently given by Chip Conley, where he explained the role of a Modern Elder in this day and age.

The proposition for his new book ‘Wisdom at Work – the making of a modern Elder’ is pretty stark and straight forward. We are living longer, up to 15 years longer, and power in organisations is moving younger. As a result, if we take no action, then we have around 20 – 30 years of potential irrelevance and obsolescence built into our careers.

To counter this we have to start to rethink the way we do inter-generational collaboration in our organisations.

Chip’s research showed that people aged between 45 – 65 in the workplace are quickly becoming bewildered and anxious. Anxious as they worry about funding a longer and longer retirement, and bewildered by the pace of change in the workplace. Consider this, if you are 55 years old and you are going to live until you are 95 then more than 50% of your adult life is still ahead of you.

Inter-Generational Collaboration – the Value of Wisdom over Knowledge

Most large organisations have 5 generations in the workplace today. This prompts the question how best to get value from this diversity and how can we create a meaningful role for a Modern Elder in todays fast paced organisation hyper-busy work environment?

A traditional Elder is an older person who is revered and sought to dispense wisdom. By comparison a Modern Elder has to both seek and dispense wisdom, and reverence is therefore not part of the deal! Modern Elders are simultaneously both a Mentor and an Intern, and a key attribute is their desire and capacity for continued curiosity and a search for meaning.

The role description is important, as the rate at which knowledge is being created and is accessible to all, means much of the knowledge we acquire with age has a genuine ‘best before date’ and needs to be kept relevant and fresh if it is to be of value and turn into Wisdom. Sometimes the best person to ask a question is in fact a search engine, sometimes it is not! Knowing the difference is where Wisdom pays real dividends.

The Lifeline Exercise

I have used the Lifeline Exercise in my coaching work for many years.

This simple exercise brings sharply into view the journey we are all on through life and shows our current position on this journey. Many of us over 45 are in mid-life and this tool can be powerful to show us if re-fuelling is required. The challenge for all of us is to ask how can we remain relevant and start to give back what we have learned to those around us?

The good news is that emotional intelligence improves with age and we are now better suited to collaboration and counselling than when we were younger.

Have you peaked, is this it?

Our physical peak is usually in or 20’s. Our financial peak is around our mid 40 – 50’s, however the great news is our peak as humans is mid 60’s to 80’s. It is at this age that we can claim to understand ‘humans’ and this is a great age to excel as a Modern Elder.

The question for us is do we want the job? Can we have the humility to let-go and relearn in order to create space for new insights and knowledge? Are we keen to restart the next stage of our life? The key to being a Modern Elder is to ask a lot of ‘Why’ and ‘What if’ questions. This will help uncover blind spots as this is where Wisdom lies.

The question for our organisation is how best to use this Wisdom and how to access this invisible productivity and use it to re-energise our organisation?

Modern Elders use their curiosity as a catalyst to drive growth in the humans they engage with. Treat them well and the benefits they can bring will fuel your growth and create a tailwind for your organisation in these increasingly uncertain times.

If you would like to discuss how we can help you develop Modern Elders in your organisation then please contact me here.

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