The blunt honesty typically associated with the old gray hairs is something that should be embraced by the younger generation.
If it hasn’t happened to you already, it will soon enough; that first time you get up in the morning, look into the mirror and ask yourself, “When did I get so old?”
“It’s a Great Day to Be Alive” was a big hit a few years back for country music star Travis Tritt. There’s a verse in the song where he sings, “Now I look in the mirror and what do I see, a lone wolf there staring back at me, long in the tooth, but harmless as can be.” I too wrote about being old in one of the first articles I published in The Zweig Letter about a decade ago titled, “Grey Hair and Cheater Glasses.” The point of Tritt’s song is that every day is a great day to be alive, no matter your age. Mine is that age, and the expectation of candor often associated with it can be a liberating experience, and one heck of an asset in an entrepreneurial business environment.
Candor, frankness, and honesty. Telling it like you see it. We’ve all witnessed it in others, especially seniors. At a time when our tolerance for indecisiveness ranks right up there with poor service at a fast food chain, being a little “long in the tooth” and knowing how to leverage their grey hairs seems to enable many seniors to quickly cut through the jargon and deal with the issues at hand. I’m not talking about being rude, demanding, or even impatient. I’m talking about the point at which we all find our compass and understand our purpose.
In many organizations today, it seems that individuals spend a large portion of their careers worrying about what others think, or how their comments or actions might be perceived by others. Ironically, candor, frankness, and honesty are precisely the characteristics that leadership within most high-growth, entrepreneurial organizations crave. Obviously, it will suit you well to exercise some level of tact and decorum, but I trust you get the point. There’s little time (or patience) in today’s fast-moving, technology-driven business environment for the “yes-type” staffer who’s never willing to offer their opinion or “tell it like it is.”
Think about the people in your firm or the firms you’ve worked for, or with, that were most inspirational to you. Were they the type who simply “played the game” in the sense of telling the boss or client what they thought they wanted to hear, or were they the type who told them what they needed to hear? All too often, I see young consultants doing exactly that; metering their true opinions and beliefs so as to not upset the apple cart. Sure, it’s natural and largely a function of youthful inexperience. However, the “stars” within an organization are often those who aren’t afraid to speak up and voice their opinions, just as the best leaders within the most successful organizations are those who surround themselves with such individuals.
Ronald Reagan often said that he owed his political success to surrounding himself with the best people he could find; people who were smarter than him. Perhaps it was also because the people he surrounded himself with weren’t afraid to be themselves and tell him what they thought he needed to know and what needed to be done to carry out his policy.
So, what’s my point in all of this? We tend to associate the bluntness of unabashed opinions, true beliefs, and telling it like it is, with being a bit long in the tooth and having a few grey hairs. So, if you are one of those who has already come to that realization by looking into the morning mirror, cheer up. Enjoy the expectation of candor, frankness, and honesty that comes with your age. Your colleagues might find it surprising, but your employer will likely appreciate it. If, however, you’re among the youthful middle or junior ranks of your organization, don’t wait. Share your opinions, offer constructive criticisms, and push thinking that questions the status quo. The sooner you can find your compass, the more value you will have to your organization and your clients.
Marc Florian is vice president for Environmental Consulting & Technology, Inc., a professional consulting, engineering and scientific services organization serving clients and markets throughout the United States and on four continents. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.