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Wednesday, April 20, 2022

What Every Leader Can Learn From Their Younger Self


Where do effective leaders find inspiration? From their role models? From public figures? From self-help books?

Well, you may be surprised to learn that effective leaders have a source of inspiration that is far closer to home: their younger selves.

Effective leaders know how to use their previous experience and personal journey to create an authentic, highly personalized leadership style that suits their identity and the needs of those around them. However, these leaders don’t arrive at an authentic leadership style by accident. They spend time refining their approach and are intentional about what sticks and what gets left behind — here’s how they make it happen.

Metacognition and Leadership

Experience alone is not enough to become a helpful or effective leader. Instead, older leaders can sort through their previous experiences and “younger-selves” to gain key insights and make decisions that align with the current context of their leadership environment. Thinking in this way is called “metacognition,” and is vital for leaders who want to transfer previous experience into current issues.

Simply put, metacognition just means “thinking about thinking.” This might seem mundane, but leaders who consciously consider how they think about their previous experience will find much more success when attempting to learn from their past selves. Common questions that experienced leaders might ask themselves when attempting metacognition might include:

     How has the context of my followers’ work changed since “my day”?

     When I think about my followers, what adjectives come to mind? Are these descriptions helpful?

     How would my younger self have dealt with this problem? What might my younger self expect from someone in my position now?

These questions are designed to help experienced leaders interrogate their own biases while making use of their previous experience and knowledge. By imagining their decisions from the perspective of their younger selves, experienced leaders may discover a new, more effective approach. Additionally, routine metacognition keeps you from making rash decisions and reenergizing a leader’s approach to a challenge.

Re-Energizing and Adaptation

Leadership is a difficult, demanding activity which requires constant creativity and adaptation. However, adapting to new trends and emerging technology can drain a leader’s energy, and distract them from their number one priority: caring for the well-being of their team.

But experienced leaders who are feeling drained have a secret weapon: their younger selves. Oftentimes, a leader’s younger self is bolder and more willing to take risks or make big decisions. As a leader ages, they need to invoke their younger selves to promote a culture of experimentation and ensure that their team remains on the cutting edge.

There are a few different ways that leaders can invoke their younger selves and find the energy for experimentation. One of the best methods to re-energize leadership efforts is to make a move that promotes mental health. In particular, leaders who are trying to get in touch with their younger selves may consider moving to quiet suburbs or lakeside homes which support creativity and problem-solving.

Creativity and Problem Solving

Our younger selves had fewer responsibilities and more time for creativity. This meant that we could easily discover solutions to complex problems,

Experienced leaders can tap into this youthful thinking by doodling. That’s because doodling activates our brain’s default mode network, which allows us to make new connections and discover memories that may have been forgotten about.

Of course, not all doodling is productive. But experienced leaders can use productive doodling strategies when they’re feeling burnt-out or are running up against mental roadblocks. Even a short doodle session between team meetings can help unlock a leader’s younger self or reduce stress. This may lead to new approaches and insights that can help a leader find solutions to problems and discover new leadership approaches which inspire confidence in their team.

Relate, Don’t Patronize

Inspirational leaders rarely start a point with a phrase like “When I was your age . . .”, or “In my day . . .”. This is because they understand that the context of their leadership is vital, and the cultural changes that have occurred since “their day” have changed the way we think, work, and live. As such, motivational speeches that harken back to the “good old days” are more likely to create generational divides, rather than inspire unity and create trust within leadership.

Instead, effective leaders who are older than their peers know how to leverage their previous experiences in a way that feels relatable to younger folks, rather than patronizing. Leaders can achieve relatability in many different ways but should always seek to centralize the experience and emotions of their team, rather than themselves — simply sharing old “war stories” is unlikely to help anyone.

For example, let’s say an employee has recently made a costly mistake and is suffering from low-self esteem. An older, more experienced leader can help restore the employee’s confidence by sharing some of their own previous failures. This sentiment is echoed by Dr. Sam Collins, an expert in entrepreneurship and leadership. Dr. Collins states that failures are essential to success, and thinking of failure in this way helps us find the confidence we need to achieve our dreams.

Experienced leaders, who may have taken some serious knocks in their younger days, can add credibility to the idea that failure is a step towards growth. They can also draw inspiration from their younger selves by using metacognition to ensure that their leadership is relatable and improves the confidence and ability of those around them. 

About the Author: Luke Smith is a writer and researcher turned blogger. Since finishing college he is trying his hand at being a freelance writer. He enjoys writing on a variety of topics but technology and business topics are his favorite. When he isn't writing you can find him traveling, hiking, or gaming.

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