Leading for Longevity

I’m reading a fantastic book at the minute – and by fantastic, I mean terrifying! It’s called “The 100 Year Life” and as the title suggests it deals with the fact that our every increasing longevity, whilst a gift, will only be so if we seek to challenge our preconceptions about how that life is structured.

In short, and I really am paraphrasing, the authors explain that anyone in their late teens/early twenties can expect to live to the ripe old age of 106! This means that our current three stage “life model” of education, work and retirement is no longer valid or realistic.

It’s a great read, and one I’d highly recommend. The terrifying part came when I started to think about what that meant for me – and the challenge for business and how it approaches leadership – when I think about “my” generation and the space they inhabit.

What do I mean? Well, consider this. If you’re on the verge of retirement, you’ll be able to do so having experienced a property price boom, a fairly stable and steady employment market and, most importantly, a final salary pension. As Charles Montgomery Burns, Homers evil and greedy boss in The Simpsons would say…“excellent…”(please feel free to do the voice).

If you’re just embarking on your journey, you know you’re going to have to work longer, that housing is expensive and a pension isn’t going to fund 30 years of retirement unless you’re one of the few that can finance it. Grim, but at least you know what lies ahead.

Those of us in the middle, with clearly inadequate pensions, who’re witnessing the nascent digital age and its subsequent transformation of the workplace, are sort of stuck in no man’s land. And guess what age bracket most of our senior leaders fall into? That’s right…

So what does that mean? What do leaders need to consider in this brave new world? I think there are three things that are vital:

  • Empathy: With yourself and others – obvious, I know, but how else can you lead if you’re not mindful of the differing circumstances – and motivations – that we’re all working in – including your own
  • Strategic Altruism: We have to accept that the social contract between leaders and their teams includes the tacit agreement that we’re always preparing them for their next role – and that it may be somewhere else
  • Beginners Mind: We have to stop thinking about careers as being linear, lives being “three stage”, and start to accept people will expect their work commitments to ebb and flow depending on much more than just their age

As leaders we’re going to have to accept that a large part of our role will be about navigating and negotiating those changes – facilitating moves horizontally, down or out – and not seeing that as a negative.

And we need to think about what that means for us – we all know that most senior team members work long and stressful hours. Maybe, we should apply some of the above to our own plans too?

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