The New Leadership Equation: Five Core Ingredients

By Dychtwald, Ken | Aging Today, September/October 2012 | Go to article overview

The New Leadership Equation: Five Core Ingredients


Dychtwald, Ken, Aging Today


After nearly 40 years in the field of aging, I've come to believe there are five key ingredients for becoming and remaining a leader in this arena.

First, you must have a forwardfacing vision and mission.

You've got to imagine how you'd like things to be, how to get there and what roles we all need to play to realize that vision. Your ideas must be compelling enough for people to want to take that trip with you. Backward-facing vision may be fascinating and make for an insightful historical perspective, but forward-facing vision is a requirement.

And you must cultivate excellent communication skills. In a less media-engaged era, you might have been able to carry on by teaching a college course or publishing a timely study. That's not enough anymore. Today, you have to be a persuasive multimedia communicator. Some people think effective communication is a natural talent. I disagree: you can learn how to get better, you can improve with practice and there are classes, workshops and coaches that can leapfrog you forward.

When I became involved in trying to spread the word about a new image of aging, I started taking courses in selling. I doubt there's ever been a course at an ASA or a gerontological meeting on how to be a persuasive person, but in the field of life insurance and home realty, they know how to sell. So I signed up for many programs in those sectors to hone my skills as a persuasive communicator in the gerontology field.

Second, your content must be airtight.

When you are vetted by the White House or to speak in front of world leaders, CEOs or people in the field and your facts are wrong- it's over. Aging is a subject that's misunderstood, and people may have a biased or uninformed point of view. You should be more expert in what others think than what you think. Do your homework and know what you're talking about- which includes admitting what you're not sure of.

Years ago, I didn't think I understood the history of aging well enough, so I reached out to Dr. Andy Achenbaum- the country's leading expert- and asked him to tutor me. He graciously agreed. He offered up a vast panorama of big ideas to me- and I've been grateful (and better informed) ever since.

Third, be prepared to course correct

No matter who you are or what path you're on, you'd probably benefit from good editing. This requires a willingness to learn new things and adjust your orientation.

Around 25 years ago, Monsignor Chuck Fahey and I were sitting on a panel together at a conference; Chuck turned to me and initiated a serious discussion about the importance of the civil rights movement and the kind of caring values and morals that needed to form the foundation of the field of aging. He made some important points that I hadn't fully considered. At that moment, I was just completing work on my eighth book, Age Wave. After the talk with Fahey, my views had shifted and I decided to rewrite the whole book.

Which leads me to my fourth point: have mentors.

I don't know how anybody can become a leader in any field without mentors. And don't be afraid to reach high. The most influential gerontology-related mentors to me were Maggie Kuhn and Bob Butler.

However, many of my mentors are from the worlds of business and politics. …

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