How to Become a Modern Elder

by Jennifer Miller on September 18, 2018

in Book Review, Workplace Issues

It makes for a great fish-out-of-water movie premise: fifty-something worker has to report to a much younger boss and is perplexed with the change in power structure (ala Dennis Quaid’s character in In Good Company.) But it’s not so funny when you are that employee, still feeling vibrant and willing to contribute, and you wonder if younger leaders are undervaluing you.

A new book, Wisdom at Work: The Making of a Modern Elder explores members of the workforce who feel this pain. The book, written by 58-year-old Chip Conley, tackles head-on a social dynamic that threatens our workplace. “In a world that venerates the young, many in midcareer sense that the ground is shifting beneath their feet, leaving them feel invisible, undervalued and threatened by the digital natives nipping at their heels,” he writes.

wisdom at workCan you relate? And you don’t even have to reached your sixth decade for this to resonate. In the hyper-youth-oriented tech industry, even 35-year-olds feel the sting of ageism.  “Wisdom at Work” seeks to provide reassurance, along with practical resources, that you are most definitely not too old to contribute. In fact, your age is an asset, if you know how to present it as such.

As a member of the target audience for this book, I was heartened by its message that one’s life experience has value. Conley seeks to liberate the term “elder” from “elderly”, pointing out that the latter is simply how many years you’ve been on this earth, but the former is what you have done with those years. Conley uses the term “Modern Elder” to describe a person who has married their wisdom and experience with curiosity, a beginner’s mind and a willingness to evolve.

Conley has lived the last several years as a Modern Elder in the making. In 2013, at the age of 52, he sold his boutique hotel company and joined Airbnb as head of global hospitality and strategy. His boss (Airbnb’s CEO) was decades younger than him, as were many of the senior management team members. Conley’s experiences as one of the “older guys on the block” led him to explore what it means to age with vitality at work.

Wisdom at Work is Conley’s compilation of  ideas, backed up with demographic data, on how people entering the mid-terms of their work journey can still have meaningful careers. He outlines the characteristics of a Modern Elder (spoiler alert: if you have become complacent, you won’t like a few of his suggestions) and he provides ample anecdotes, examples and reference materials to help you grow in your efforts to see your age as a strength that your employer will value.

I devoured this book. It seems like just yesterday that I was the youngest member of our company’s management team, fresh-faced, energetic and yes, a bit smug about how some of my older colleagues were a bit out of touch. I’m grateful that one of my contemporaries has taken the time to lay out a path for those of us who want to stay relevant. I highly recommend that you pick up a copy of Wisdom at Work.

Chip Conley has created an excellent resource list on this topic. Download the PDF here.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for the purposes of the review. This post also contains an affiliate link, which means if you click the link and make a purchase, I may receive a small compensation.



4 Low-Cost Ways to Develop Your Team’s Soft Skills

August 27, 2018

Leaders are often reminded “what’s inspected gets done.” While this adage is typically applied to measurable task-related behaviors such as productions goals, it’s also relevant for human elements of the workplace like interpersonal skills. As artificial intelligence makes further inroads into your daily work as a leader, you need to pay attention to soft-skill development […]

Read the full article →

Here’s What AI Means for Your Leadership

August 6, 2018

Will artificial intelligence change the way you lead? Yes, and probably in ways that were unthinkable even a few years ago. There’s a lot being written right now about how AI will affect the white-collar workforce. Jobs once thought immune to automation due to their extensive need for human analysis are now seen as AI’s […]

Read the full article →

Want to Improve Your Leadership? Get Inside Your Head

July 9, 2018

As leaders, you’re often told to that in order to stem overthinking, you need to “get out of your head.” And while it’s true that too much introspection causes either oversimplification or excessive rumination, a new leadership book suggests that you should consider what’s going on in that noggin of yours. Want to improve your […]

Read the full article →

3 Communication Tips to Help You Be a Better Leader

June 28, 2018

Do you have a colleague that irritates you with his “ahs,” “ums” or protracted silences? Leaders are taught that strong orators remove superfluous words and awkward silences from their presentations, so it makes sense that you might take a dim view of these speech patterns. But even though Sam from Accounting might drive you to […]

Read the full article →

7 Reasons Leaders Should Focus on Developing Employee Soft Skills

April 9, 2018

Why are we still talking about the importance of leaders developing employee soft skills? Here’s why: the more that automation in all of its forms become part of our daily work lives, the more we need to bring to bear the one thing that a machine will never be: human. And that humanity is most […]

Read the full article →

Lead Like a Human, Not a Manager

March 13, 2018

In today’s fast-paced world of business is it possible to bring humanity back to leadership? A new book backed by research and co-authored by a Harvard Business Review contributor aims to answer that question for you. In The Mind of the Leader: How to Lead Yourself, Your People, and Your Organization for Extraordinary Results, authors […]

Read the full article →

Leadership Tips for Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace

March 5, 2018

“I asked you here today to let you know where I’ve been for the past month. I was in a mental health facility.” So began a conversation with a colleague that I admired tremendously. His confession surprised me; we had worked on a long-term project together just three months prior. I had no idea he […]

Read the full article →

Leaders Who Know When to Shut Up Get Better Ideas from the Team

February 26, 2018

For many years, I worked with a highly effective (and very respected) leader named Jack, who at the time was a senior executive at a large insurance company. After working together on a few corporate projects, Jack asked me to lead a three-day strategic planning session for his team. About two hours into the first […]

Read the full article →

Renewing Your Leadership Purpose with Compassion

February 19, 2018

Years ago, when I was a 23 year old assistant human resources manager at a department store, one of our sales associates suffered a heart attack and died while at work. At the time, I was out of town, attending my grandfather’s funeral. Upon my return to work, my boss Mary told me what had […]

Read the full article →