The reality is, only a few people really become long-term leaders in their areas of expertise. Most leaders fade. Only a small percentage of politicians rise to the top and stay at the top. Only a few ministry leaders are still relevant in their sixties. Only a few writers repeatedly produce best sellers. Most leaders flame out like fireworks.
So what’s the secret to longevity in leadership? I read a blog post by Donald Miller a while back on this very topic. His emphasis was to encourage peaking at age 65. Miller wrote how those who are very successful in their 20’s tend to decline in their 30’s and 40’s due to many energetic short-term goals but few long-term goals and often a lack of wisdom to manage the success.
The other problem that Miller points out is the mistake of trying to be a fashionable and trendy leader. He wisely states, “Don’t fall for it. If you become a fashionable leader of the moment, you’ll be gone as fast as bell bottoms. The same people who praise you today will be distancing themselves tomorrow.” Unfashionable leaders who last are in the category of Mother Theresa, Margaret Thatcher and Warren Buffet.
In his Storyline blog, Miller suggests we take the time to sit down and ask ourselves what we would want our lives to look like if we peaked at 65—and then plan accordingly. Do the things today that will take you to that peak. Miller’s prediction is that “you’ll start rising above your peers somewhere in your thirties and continue that slight incline through your coaching and wisdom years. If you do this, you’ll be a sought after expert in your given field when you enter into your sixties, and likely well before. All your competition will be reeling in their past glory and you will still be relevant.”
Here’s some core things I would echo from Miller based on my own experience and observations. These will help you to be a leader that lasts:
Stay Connected to the Truth – Sensationalism, emotionalism and shock-jock comments are for the moment. The year-after-year truthful and trusted message will always outlast and endure the message of the moment.
Stay Consistent – Consistent quality over the long haul keeps people coming back for more. Take your time to get it right. And, make it right if you don’t get it right the first time.
Stay in Your Groove – Make sure you know what you are exceptionally good at and stick with it. Know a lot about something instead of a little about everything.
Stay with Your Long-term Plan – Short-term goals are good but if you don’t have a long-term plan, you will waste a lot of time chasing your tail. Who do you want to be when you are 65 or 75? Does your to-do list you’re working on today take you in that direction?
Miller summed up his lasting leadership musings with a couple comments I love. They are worth contemplating today. Here they are. “You are becoming tomorrow’s leader, not today’s leader. And if you’re already today’s leader, start focusing on tomorrow because today is almost done. Either way, there’s no downside to long-term vision.”
QUESTION: What qualities of an enduring leader did I miss? Please add yours in the comment section.