Leadership in Higher Education and the Second Half of Life

Article excerpt

Introduction

Presently, there is little or no work available regarding the possible relationship between higher educational leadership and what has become known as the second half of life phenomena. This is a troubling void given the fact that so many administrators and would-be administrators are in the second half portion of life, roughly forty years of age or older, and, as a result, are undergoing great physical and psychological changes appropriate to this stage which can and will affect their work. Consequently, an examination of what is known about this stage of life and a discussion of how it might impact an executive in higher education may be insightful in helping to develop more effective leadership models for the field.

The Second Half of Life

The initial groundwork regarding the notion of a second half of life was first laid by Swiss psychologist Carl Jung. Jung (1977) proposed that the first half of life, roughly until one's forties, involved the development of the personality and the adapting to life in the outer world. This stage of life typically concerns itself with education, relationships, work, family, and children. The tasks of the first half of life are external, having largely to do with establishing a family and a career. During what Jung labeled the second half of life, one turns inward to focus on the life of the spirit. Jung believed the tasks of the second half of life are essentially internal, having largely to do with finding meaning in one's life and in one's death. The Swiss thinker also lamented that society prepares its youth for the first half of life in terms of a proper education but provides little for the middle-aged to prepare them for the second half of life.

It must be noted here that Jung, and often even scholars today who examine issues and ideas first raised by Jung, frequently addressed the mid life/transformation stage from a male perspective. But as Wilder (2005) observed, women too experience profound changes at mid-life and have similar needs to transform attitudes about work as men do. Wilder also called for more research in this area, since she believed, "no road map" existed "for mid-life and beyond [for] women to follow for this next exciting and vital phrase of our lives" (p. 3).

Levine (2004) agreed with many aspects of Wilder's notions. Drawing on the latest research on hormonal change and based on a number of detailed interviews with women in the second half of life, Levine found mid-life women facing similar problems as men in the workplace. Both Wilder's and Levine's findings strongly suggest that what is true of one gender at mid-fife in the work place is also true for the other. Consequently, while much of the research used in this work centered on men in the second half of life, much of what is noted here will most often relate to women as well.

Recent scholarship suggests the features of the second half of life are grounded in physical changes (Valiant, 2002). Powell (2003) asserted "the changes that happen to your body in midlife may have indicated that you crossed over into the second half. Anybody who says he can still do at fifty what he was doing at twenty wasn't doing much at twenty. Aging brings limitations in what you can still do" (p. 4). Diamond (1998) believed that similarly to a woman's transition, a man's transition into the mid-life drama is driven by profound physical transformation. For the male, these changes are wrought by a drop in male hormone production. With this drop comes a loss of drives and ambitions, a scary thing in our competitive/success driven work world. The passions that first half of life men and women wielded like battering rams to defeat adversaries and be successful in the work arena suddenly wane, often leaving the mid-life person in crisis mode.

But just as distressing as the deep physical changes at this portion of life are the psychological changes. This aspect is one that can have profound impact on administrators in higher education. …