By Lee Ellis
“Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.”
As we celebrate Veterans Day this month, it made me think about this quote from General Douglas MacArthur. For the most part, U.S. citizens are very respectful and enthusiastic about honoring the sacrifices of our military veterans. But do veterans (and older leaders) offer more than old stories of past battles and successes?
Whether you’re a military veteran, a business veteran, an academic veteran, or a veteran in any sector of society, you sense the strong pressure that the world wants to cast off the old as irrelevant in our modern, youth-driven culture. Leaders today that once had influential power and influence are being replaced by seemingly younger, vibrant, more innovative next generation leaders that can do it better, faster, and smarter. Older leaders inevitably begin looking over their shoulder wondering when they’re no longer needed.
“Here’s the challenge for you, older leader—renew your value by sharing your legacy of experiences, battles, successes, and failures.”
Here’s the challenge for you, older leader—renew your value by sharing your legacy of experiences, battles, successes, and failures. Otherwise, future generations are doomed to repeat what you’ve already learned in your personal and professional life.
Here are three unchanging principles that will renew leadership value for yourself and others –
1. Preparation – Share it and Use it
Think of times in your past when you’ve been most successful. It was likely a time when you created a plan, took the necessary training, and worked hard to fulfill the steps to make it a reality. These experiences created a unique set of training principles that would be invaluable to next generation leaders. Elevate your value by helping prepare them to take your place. Teach them the ethics, character, and tactics of great leadership.
Alternately, you also have to use these skills to plan ahead for your own future. Fall back on your own wisdom and training, and choose to prepare now where you want to be in five to ten years. Otherwise, someone may choose for you.
“Fall back on your own wisdom and training, and choose to prepare now where you want to be in five to ten years. Otherwise, someone may choose for you.”
2. Commitment is Foundational
If you’re a child, spouse, or parent (I think that’s all of us), you know that commitment is critical to the important things in life such as relationships. Likewise in the area of work, as a young leader you soon realized that need to look for an easy way out when a situation got really difficult. If you didn’t choose to stay committed to the goal, you would’ve given up. Your seasoned values and character kept you daily engaged in the battle. Next generation leaders may not have a clue what they will face in their professional futures, but you can help equip them with the right perspective, tactics, and attitude to successfully commit and stay the course.
“…as a young leader you soon realized that need to look for an easy way out when a situation got really difficult. If you didn’t choose to stay committed to the goal, you would’ve given up.”
And, you should keep those skills on hand for your own future. The types of battles may change in your twilight years, but your experience will provide the level of resilience you need to confidently move forward.
3. Live and Lead with Honor
To live and lead with honor sets one apart in every area of life. Honor is about integrity, decency, principle, morality, character, nobility, respect, dignity, and high values; see one of my interview videos below for my personal definition of honor. In the Bible, the Apostle Paul said, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”* If you think on these things, you’re more likely to live as an honorable person.
But, an older leader like you can tell a next generation leader that it’s not as easy as it sounds. Fear is always lurking around the corner, and it will take you out. Just look at the dis-honorable behavior we see in our culture, and it comes from greed which is a manifestation of fear.
The antidote to fear for all leaders is courage—leaning into the pain of your fear to do what you know is right even when it doesn’t feel natural of safe. Your continued growth in courage will inspire everyone around you. If there was ever a time our country needs courage, it’s now. We need courageous leaders and citizens of all ages. You can play a powerful role—take the courage challenge**.
*Source: The Holy Bible, the Book of Philippians, Chapter 4 Verse 8 (New International Version translation)
**Join Lee Ellis’ “Courage Challenge” movement and get free resources. Learn more at www.LeadingWithHonor.com.
Lee Ellis is founder and president of Leadership Freedom® LLC, a leadership and team development consulting company. He consults with Fortune 500 senior executives in the areas of hiring, teambuilding, leadership and human performance development, and succession planning. He is also a speaker and the author of the award-winning book, Leading With Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton, in which he shares his experiences as a Vietnam POW and highlights leadership lessons learned in the camps. For more information, please visit www.leadingwithhonor.com.