Wisdom that comes with age

We live in a culture that prioritises youth over genuine wisdom, the speediness of the moment over what takes time to mature and grow, and obviousness and immediacy over the deep understanding of complex, interrelated systems. Given all of this it’s wonderful to see serious coverage in the mainstream UK press given to the possibilities of development – and all that it brings – as we grow older.

The capacity to be powerful in the midst of the super-complex systems and organisations upon which we rely does not come easily. It requires a significant set of interrelated skills in sensing, understanding, speaking and listening, self-care, self-awareness, request making, and acting into the unknown. These skills do not come immediately to us and require years of practice, diligent self-observation, commitment, and a genuine capacity to let go of what seems certain so that what’s less obvious can be encountered. So it should be no surprise to us, as reported in this week’s Guardian newspaper, that such capacity is more often found in those who have had longer to live so far (as long as they have remained sufficiently open to the developmental opportunities that have come their way).

The Guardian article draws on a paper published by consultants PwC, itself drawn from research carried out at Harthill, that shows that people who have reached this skilful strategist stage of their development are more frequently found among women over the age of 55 than among any other group. This is important for us to see – because we don’t take adult development nearly seriously enough (it’s vital if we are to be able to effectively manage and run contemporary systems and organisations for the benefit of everyone), and because we don’t see that there is a kind of systemic wisdom we need that is rare, necessary, and most widely found in those people we quickly write off as ‘past it’.

David Rooke and his colleagues at Harthill are among a number of people who have done excellent work in describing what development is – descriptions which make it easier for us to talk about and identify the kind of wisdom we most sorely need, as well as what can make it possible for people to bring it about.

For a clear introduction which goes far beyond what’s included in either the Guardian or the PwC paper, you could read Rooke & Torbert’s paper ‘The Seven Transformations of Leadership’ published originally in the Harvard Business Review, summarised here, and available from Harthill’s Leadership Development Framework website.

And for a deeper understanding of what development can be, and the consequences of our blindness to it, read Robert Kegan’s book ‘In Over Our Heads’ or his more recent (and more straightforward) book with Lisa Laskow Lahey ‘Immunity to Change’.

You can read more about what I’ve had to say about this topic here and here.

Photo Credit: jenny downing via Compfight cc

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