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Katherine Tyler Scott
Business leader

Katherine Tyler Scott

Katherine Tyler Scott is Managing Partner of Ki ThoughtBridge, a leadership consultancy, and is author, most recently, of Transforming Leadership: The Episcopal Church of the 21st Century. She is a board member of the International Leadership Association.

No time for 'throw-away' leaders

Q: When he died this week, Robert Byrd, who was a frail 92, had represented West Virginia in the Senate for more than 50 years. Is it generally a good idea for top leaders in any sector to serve that long, or that late in life? Given the common instinct to hang on, should limits be imposed?

Age will be a factor in evaluating leadership, but it should not be the determining factor. Instead of focusing on years of life, we should be looking at whether an individual possesses the qualities of good leadership. For me, these qualities are intellectual and emotional intelligence, excellent psychological and physical health, integrity, authenticity, genuine respect for others, honesty, excellent communication skills, clarity of core values, the ability to foster trust, a passion for the common good, a demonstrated ability to engage in lifelong learning, and the capacity to influence others to do what is right and to accomplish results that improve lives. These are the criteria I recommend for both selected and elected leaders.

All of these qualities imply a certain level of maturation that is affected by age, but we should not be chained to inflexible rules about when these qualities become diminished and render an individual from leading.

Many institutions have age limits on how long an individual can remain employed. It seems to me this kind of restriction is based on archaic assumptions about an individual's capacity to contribute in significant ways in late adulthood.

If we identify leadership capacities and the history of performance as the primary criteria for judging an individual's ability to lead, we would have far more age diversity in the workplace and in public life. We already see evidence of the baby-boomer generation refusing to accept that aging is the equivalent of being passive and inactive.

In order to embrace able leadership at any age we would have to give up our scarcity thinking and demonstrate the courage to change. We would have to challenge the beliefs and structures that confine leadership to only a few people or positions. We would need to expand the pool rather than compete for a perceived paucity of options. We would have to understand that in this fast-moving competitive world in which we live, we need as many capable leaders as possible contributing to the economic well-being of the Country.

We cannot afford to have "throwaway" leaders just because of age, either young or old. We need a multi-generational workforce and citizenry, in which the transfer of institutional history, knowledge and wisdom flows, and the transition from generation to generation happens in ways that honors the competence and contributions of all leaders. We should all want to create government, business, and education systems in which there is always room for the best.

Our country needs the best leaders and the truth is good leadership comes in all ages

By Katherine Tyler Scott

 |  June 28, 2010; 3:14 PM ET
Category:  Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Yes, good leadership comes in all ages but sometimes the best thing a good leader can do is step aside. Even in today's world, 92 is very old and with that age comes inevitable physical and mental infirmities. Now I don't know how much Senate business Byrd missed on a regular basis, but he certainly missed more than a average healthy person in their 50s or even 60s would. This has the practical effect of depriving his constituents of full representation. There is also, frankly, no reason that anyone needs to serve 50 years in our government. The legislative branch rightly saw that a president should be limited in the time he can serve in office, yet as was typical for them, failed to treat themselves the same way.

I personally believe that we need every federal executive or legislative office capped at 12 years... 3 terms for President, 2 for Senators and 6 for Representatives. This would keep fresh blood rotating through on a regular basis and would go a long way toward eliminating the "professional politician".

I'd also cap Justices on the Supreme court to 20 years. This allows ample time for a Justice to apply his generation's legal perspectives while eliminating the current multigenerational divide between octoginarians and the average working aged American.

Another way to think of this is to imagine the good or great leaders whom we never have the opportunity to recognize because of men like Byrd's stranglehold on their positions...

Posted by: wildfyre99 | June 29, 2010 11:04 AM
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