Leaders Learn from Elders: 7 Lessons on Leadership from Elder Interview

“It takes a wise man to learn from his mistakes, but an even wiser man to learn from others.”

~author unknown

"Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever." Mahatma Gandhi

We ALL have something to teach and we ALL have so much to learn. Sometimes it is worth our time as leaders to press pause and seek out learning from those who have walked a few more miles than we have ourselves.  Recently, I requested such an opportunity from one of our community elders.  I sat down with him in his office in Seattle and asked if he’d be willing to share some lessons that he has learned in his life and in his work.  I could not help but notice how his lessons line up with what so many of the experts on leadership and achievement declare.  The elder requested to remain anonymous given his position in the community and his chosen field, but I will refer to him as William (not his real name).

I got 7 Big Lessons from our time together (plus a bonus one) and here they are:

1. Have a Positive Attitude: The biggest lesson that I got from my conversation was the importance of having a positive attitude. I have to say how exciting this was for me to hear from him. I truly do subscribe to believing in the value and importance of a positive attitude. When I get stuck, I usually notice that my attitude is what’s going in the toilet. Thank you William for this amazing reminder.  William also shared amazing examples about his family members who made it through challenging times; times that were much more difficult than I have ever personally known. And yet they all carried on with a great, positive attitude.  In fact, it’s what got them through the tough times!

2. Build, Maintain and Nurture Relationships: I noticed so much of our conversation talked about relationships. Whether or not it was relationships that William currently maintained, or relationships from his past even perhaps of the people that he’s never met, relationships are of great importance in life.

3. Overcoming Fear: I asked William why some of the people around him might not invest in relationships and building relationships in the way that he does.  After some thought, his answer was “I think that they’re afraid. I think they’re afraid of being rejected or maybe of failing. But that doesn’t bother me. If somebody doesn’t want me in their group or life, that’s fine. I’ll just move onto the next thing.” I’m so aware of how fear holds us back. I know that fear has often held me back. So hearing this lesson again, reinforced the importance of not being controlled by my fears.

4. Have Mentors. The first thing that William noted to me, were the people who helped and inspired  him along the way. He talked about people who continue to inspire him and remind him of particular lessons even today. I love that William had pictures of these important people right there in his office where he could see them every day.  I have a list of the important mentors that inspire me. I don’t have the pictures up. I will do that. William, you have inspired me to do that.

5. Love What You Do: William is still going strong with no signs of letting up. I asked him why he continues to work and he answered that he loves what he does. I could see it in his face. William lit up when he talked about his work.

6. Embrace Change. William talked a lot about change. We talked about how it’s the only certain thing. “Life is change.”  He was also very transparent that changes aren’t always easy and some of the changes that he experiences he struggles with (such as technology). I appreciate the lesson of embracing and anticipating change. He shared how he has adjusted and changed how he works so that he is still a major contributor and force in his field.  He has changed the way that he is a force . Great lesson! Instead of trying to do things the old way, William changed his approach and is still a big player. Awesome!

7. Discrimination Is Everywhere. We talked a lot about underprivileged groups and groups that face discrimination. William reminded me of a type of discrimination in the workforce –  ageism.  William described how he notices some of his colleagues being dismissed when they introduce themselves as retired. It’s as if all the knowledge and wisdom and usefulness of those people went away when their title went away. I think that is sad. I think it is sad to greet people that way and I think it is particularly sad that we miss opportunities to learn from people when they don’t have the revered title anymore. Thank you for that reminder.

BONUS: Pay It Forward. As I we completed our conversation, I asked William if there was any other piece of wisdom or counsel that he wanted me to know. “Yes. Take your skills and help support new and fledgling non profit organizations that could use some help and do it even if they can’t pay you.”  This lesson is a good reminder that I actually can help create a better future by supporting those organizations that could really use some help, especially the ones that are out there doing good work, creating a better future. I will look for these organizations or groups and I will budget my time so that I have  intentional space for this work without the requirement of monetary compensation.

THANK YOU William for offering your wisdom to me so that I can learn and so that I can share these lessons with others.

Which one of these lessons resonates with you?  What elder in your life would you like to interview? I recommend that you waste no time and go do it.  Who knows what you will learn?

Thank you for reading! Please share your thoughts and ideas with the community of readers of this article in the comment section.

Sending you all super positive energy on your leadership journey!!

Larysa Slobodian

L4 Leadership LLC