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Fifty Shades of Gray Hair-Leadership Wisdom at 50

This weekend I turned 50.

I did my best to ignore the milestone until I called my health insurance company yesterday to check on open enrollment.  As expected, I was put on hold.  What was not expected was the question that was asked while I waited.

“Are you fifty years or older?  Press one.”

I took the bait.

I gasped when the automated message began: “Are you anxious about being alone at home?  What would happen if you had an accident?  The medic alert system gives you peace of mind . . .

I am not kidding.

I hung up.

For the past twenty-five years I have made fun of that commercial–you know the one–featuring the little old lady sprawled out on the kitchen floor, legs writhing helplessly like a cockroach.  It suddenly wasn’t funny any more.

I was so mad I wanted to drop down on the floor myself and knock out 50 pushups but I remembered the burning sensation in my left shoulder since lifted a kayak back in August.  I’m afraid an MRI would tell me my rotator cuff is shredded.

Which made me think, I probably should go ahead and pop a couple of Aleve.  I needed to get ahead of the coming cold front on Sunday.  My bad knee has been stiff since Thursday.  I wish I could boast that it was an athletic injury, but truth be told, I felt a pop while clamoring up a kitchen counter to hang a blind.  The next morning it was as big as a grapefruit.

Grapefruit!  Shoot!  I gave my mom some Ruby reds this week for her birthday.  (5 days before mine.) I forgot she is on coumadin.  She’ll bleed and bruise like a banana if she eats grapefruit.

I called her.

She already figured it out.  Such a saintly lady.  She accepted the fruit graciously, not as a malicious attempt on my part to kill her.  She told me she would give it to my dad at breakfast.  He’s on coumadin too.

I chatted with mom for a while and the conversation inevitably turned toward her infirmities.  I listened attentively out of respect, but also at seventy-nine years old, her medical history is probably a good predictor of my future.

I told her about the medic alert conversation.  She advised me to go ahead and get one. I reminded her that I am a male, and that I don’t do necklaces.  She asked if Christy might like one for Christmas.  Yes.  Definitely.

Once the conversation turned towards the frequency of bowel movements I fibbed that I was in the tunnel in Mobile and, whoops, she was breaking up.

I can avoid that uncomfortable conversation with my mother, but I can’t escape the fact that the medic alert commercial got me thinking.

Am I getting old?

The evidence may be mounting. . .

(1) With the kids out of the house Christy and I are ready to eat supper around 4:30 p.m.

(2) When I get out of bed each morning, I limp until my right Achilles loosens up.

(3) I listen to NPR on the way home from work.

(4) I have ventured out in public with black socks and flip flops.

(5) Sleeping through the night is hard as touching my toes.

(6) I can’t make it past the third quarter of ESPN night games.

(7) I no longer want Crunch Berries.

(8) Before I leave the house, I make sure I have my reading glasses.

(9) I check eyebrows and ears for rogue hair every morning.

(10) I pass bathrooms and say, “Well, as long as I’m here . . .”

Enough about me.  I should probably get to the point of the whole article–leadership.  I planned on writing something catchy like “50 Leadership Lessons I Have Learned” or “50 Ways Great Leaders Lead” and then I realized, there is really just one way that good leaders separate themselves from the average ones.

It is their approach to people.

Good leaders see co-workers as teammates, employees as family, and customers as honored guests.  Good leaders are motivated by helping, mentoring, and caring for each of these groups.

They not only believe that business gets done through people, they live it.  Managing people is different than mentoring them.  Mentoring takes more time.  It takes more effort.  Plus, it’s messy.

But, it is worth it.

Perhaps the best way to sum up the edge that good leaders possess over the rest of us is this quote by Goethe:

The way you see people

Is the way you treat people;

And the way you treat people,

Is what they become.

Now that I am 50, I see the wisdom in that.


Screen Shot 2016-09-12 at 9.20.30 PMThis excerpt was originally published on the Flowers Consulting Group blog.  ( Flowers specializes in executive coaching, leadership and cultural development, and strategic planning.  He has written a book – The Soul of Business – which is a practical guide for creating and developing a healthy company culture.

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