Elders Are Called To Be

IMG_0981 Recently, I attended a workshop and heard, As elders, you’re organizing how to be, not what to be.

I had never heard this before, and yet, it rang true immediately on a professional and personal level.

We tend to think of elders as those who are older. Yet, elders are really elders because they are (1) models of behavior and action, (2) they exhibit wisdom, and (3) they assume responsibility.

Models: All true leaders – regardless of age – are elders. As a leader, you are a model. Every action is observed and copied with the hope that it will lead to the same kind of success you represent.

Wisdom: As a leader, your insights take on a level of importance that makes them of higher value than insights of others.

Responsibility: As a true leader, you have and take on responsibility.

So does this mean all leaders – like elders – should focus on “organizing HOW to be, not what to be”? Of course, the first response is do I recognize myself as an elder just because I am a leader? If you do recognize your leadership role as an elder, then considering how to be is essential.

In some ways, we are always in the process of organizing ourselves in our professional and personal lives. First, we organize the whats of life, then we organize the who of life, then – and only then – can we organize the being of life.

Let me explain this by using my own experience as the example.

As a young person, I was constantly asked what I wanted to be, what I wanted to achieve. It was all about organizing the what of life. I remember when I thought I wanted to be a chemist and discovered I didn’t really like chemistry. I then wanted to be a mathematician (I loved math!) but I didn’t know how to go about pursuing it after earning my BA in math. I wanted to be a wife and a mother. I wanted to be an artist. I could go on and on with all the ideas that flooded my mind in my teens and twenties and thirties.

By my forties, having pursued several of my ideas, I was doing some amazing things. I was an executive in a globally recognized organization, loving every minute of it. Then one day, I realized that I had achieved all the little what’s I had identified in my younger years. And while that was fulfilling in a way, I sensed there was still more. It was then that I began to seriously think about organizing who I was, my real purpose in this life.

One day working in my garden – one of my very favorite things to do – I began to see how my entire life had been about gardening. I took care of my garden, but I also took care of my house, my child, my friends, my staff – always trying to provide the best environment where they could be their best. That’s when it hit me. I never started out by saying that I was a gardener, but I am a gardener, and it felt good to say that to myself. I had clearly organized myself to garden.

Now I find myself faced with organizing the how to be – how I should be in the world as a gardener of everything and everyone I encounter. But what does it mean to organize how to be?

This new question is now my area of exploration, of learning, of experimenting. Am I to be a hard-driving person? After all, people really value the person who can get things done. They also can energize people. Should I be a happy person? In this way, I would bring joy to others as part of my gardening. Would being a centered person be best given that this brings stability and calm to any situation? Can I be a content person so that others will relax more in my presence?

Then the question arises whether I should choose at all. Should I seek possibilities or let the day-to-day speak to me about how I am to be? I don’t even know if I should attack it head on or obliquely, or just let it slide over me. Perhaps the being simply emerges. If I wish it to emerge, then I have to get out of the way. Perhaps that’s what is meant by organizing how to be.

It’s a paradox. Being is not about doing. It’s about allowing. You can see that I’m working on this – trying not to do it, but just to learn how to be, knowing that my being makes as loud a statement about the who and what I am as my actions.

Recently there have been several pieces on the new book about Steve Jobs that presents him as a man who grew into his leadership being. As you move through your day today, I challenge you to think about your own journey as a leader and ask what stage you are currently in or need to be in. Are you organizing the what of your leadership, the who of your leadership, or are you an elder by virtue of your position, ready to organize how to be?