Last week I participated in one of the many leadership conferences that take place throughout Asia. This one did a very nice job of covering many of the typical topics – how to assess aspiring leaders, managing in a cross cultural environment, building an entrepreneurial culture, and the like. However, it also addressed a topic that I have not heard discussed in any other major conference – how do you maintain your leadership edge when you have already made it to the top? In other words, how to you continue to grow and thrive as a leader once you have made it to the top of your profession? What can you do to ensure that you do not go stale and lose the qualities that got you here in the first place?
This is an increasingly important topic as lifespans continue to lengthen. Where just a few years ago most business leaders seriously considered retiring at 65 (or some even as young as 55), today most leaders can expect to be productive for another 10 or 20 years. This will continue to increase with worldwide improvements in health and technology. However, it is also clear that a 75 year old CEO will face different challenges and will have a different leadership style than her 50 year old counterpart (or even her 50 year old self). How can leaders who aspire to continue their roles or who have aspirations of new leadership positions ensure that they are ready and capable to serve effectively well into their later years?
During our discussion on this topic, we identified three key areas that today’s leaders need to keep in mind if they are to continue to be effective and vibrant leaders in the future:
- Maintain your health. This is probably the greatest stumbling block to continued leadership. When you are as busy as most effective executives, it is easy to neglect your health. You put off going to the gym, you find yourself eating high calorie business meals many days during the week and when you are not eating too much, you are probably drinking too much. Add to this, the stress inherent in any important role and you have the makings of a major health crisis.
Adopting a more healthy lifestyle is the first step in maintaining your leadership edge. Exercise, healthy diet, and appropriate stress relievers should top the list of your leadership skill set. With proper attention to your health, you will not only avoid major disease, but will have greater energy, more endurance, better mental acuity, and a better attitude – all important leadership qualities
- Keep your mind sharp. There is no doubt that our mental faculties change as we age. Age can affect our memory, the speed of our mental processing, and our ability to concentrate – not the ideal situation for a successful leader. However, there are ways to continue to stimulate the brain and help slow this brain aging process. Anything you can do to stimulate the mind and force it to work in new ways can help keep you sharp and on top of your game. Learning a new skill, acquiring a new language, taking on significant new responsibilities – in short, anything that stretches your intellect will serve to keep your brain functioning at its highest level.
- Build, maintain, and expand your relationships. The cliché “it’s lonely at the top” has a ring of truth about it. When you reach the top of your organization or profession, you have few peers. There are fewer colleagues to share ideas, challenge your thinking or encourage you when you need support. Unfortunately, when we reach the top we need these relationships as much as we ever did. Mentors are still important as are friends, colleagues, pastors, and coaches. These relationships will give you perspective, keep you focused on the things that are important and give you an outlet when you need advice and counsel. Without them the stresses and temptations of life at the top can be overwhelming.
All leaders – especially those who have reached the top – need to continually challenge themselves to expand their leadership potential. No matter if you plan to lead your organization for the foreseeable future or if you expect to undertake a dramatically new direction, with the right preparation you can be sure to be effective and successful for years to come.