I recently listened to a great interview on NPR (yep, I’m a public radio nerd) by a gerontologist named Mark Lachs who has recently written a book titled Treat Me Not My Age. One of the things he mentioned in his interview was the idea of a longevity “escape velocity” of sorts. According to Dr. Lachs, it’s “an age at which the risk of death and disability actually begins to fall“.

A study by James Vaupel explored this idea with everything from yeast to fruit flies to worms to humans. The amazing conclusion was “at extremes of age in all these species, the death rate drops“. Not satisfied with living organisms, Vaupel took his experiment to inanimate objects…he tested cars with a similar conclusion. We all know at least one person who has or has had a car that just seemed to never die.

Courtesy of Nasa

All this talk about escape velocity and longevity got me to thinking about the sustainability of businesses. We have the idea that the older a company is, the better chance it has of continually surviving. That’s all well and good, but what about Lehman Brothers? The qualifying element in all this is the health with which the entity is afforded.

If a person smokes, eats crap food, drinks excessive alcohol and never exercises then the chances of that person making it past the age that facilitates escape velocity is significantly diminished. If proper health is followed, then those chances go up. I’m consistently amazed at how the biotic principle of “healthy things grow” is interwoven throughout our society.

The same can be said for our leadership. Are you caring for the health of your leadership so it can mature into something that the risk of it dying begins to fall? Can your leadership, under its current form, reach escape velocity of the things trying to pull it down?

Here are 5 keys to making sure your leadership has the longevity necessary to reach escape velocity and diminish the likelihood of it dying or becoming disabled.

  1. Begin with character – If your leadership isn’t governed by a quality character, it will be short lived. Full stop. Be a person of integrity, humility and respect for yourself and others. Without character, loyalty and a host of other needs, effective leadership will always remain just out of arm’s reach.
  2. Make others successful – To be frank, no one likes a self-serving, maniacal, career chaser. Depending on the organization or circumstances this may get you promoted or recognized short term, but those you’re leading can make or break you. If you focus on helping make those you’re leading a success, you will be associated with successful people. It will be a successful expression of your leadership and add longevity to it.
  3. Don’t feel threatened by those smarter than you – No matter where you are in your leadership journey, there will always be at least one person who is just wicked intelligent. When you perceive their intelligence as a threat, you limit what they can accomplish and they will resent you for it. If they’re smarter than you and they resent you, do you really want to be in their gun sights? Didn’t think so. Ask them for their suggestions and use their skills and talents (along with everyone else’s) to make the team better. Collectively we are infinitely smarter than any one person.
  4. Hang with the gang – So many leaders simply drop the ball on this. You don’t have to help them move house, but you do need to spend some informal time with them in some capacity. Get in their world by showing a genuine interest in who they are beyond what they bring to the team/organization/project. You are leading people, not “assets”. Never forget that.
  5. Address poor performance quickly – The majority of folks who don’t like accountability are the ones who need it the most. One tolerated poor performer will implode the entire team. People will operate at the low level of the poor performer and dare you to confront them on it. Leaders who don’t address this issue are viewed as weak and lose respect quickly. No chance at reaching escape velocity from that position. Find out what’s causing the poor performance. Perhaps it’s a coaching issue, perhaps they need to be invited to leave. Address it. Make a decision. Move on.

What other things have you seen that adds longevity to leadership?

  • Adam

    William I think this is a great post and there a ton of great advice. I really like your point #3. “Don’t feel threatened by those smarter than you” — I think the majority of who people would consider great leaders of the past were great leaders not because they were the best at everything, but because they surrounded themselves with the best.

    For example political leaders surround themselves with experts in many areas such as the economy, foreign affairs, military affairs, etc. — they don’t pretend to know everything in these fields. they rely on these “experts” for advice and guidance, yet they still make the final decision.

    I think a great leader knows his strengths and even more so realizes their weaknesses and addresses them with the resources at their disposal.

    — Adam

  • Good point about political leaders Adam. Thanks so much for your contribution!

  • Hi Craig,
    Yes, have to agree with number two as my favourite too.