How Does Age Affect Leadership Styles?
Despite the stereotype that an older leader is a wiser leader, age and wisdom are not always directly connected. Aging affects leadership in several different ways, depending on the personal beliefs and viewpoints of the aging leader. Some people become more effective leaders as they get older and some become less effective.
A 2011 thesis presented at the University of Queensland School of Psychology studied the relationship between age and wisdom among older leaders. The study defined wisdom as a combination of relevant knowledge, understanding of context, tolerance for different views and values and the ability to deal with the inevitable uncertainties of life effectively. The study found that leaders who were perceived as having these traits were also seen as being the most effective leaders and that those who were adept at handling uncertainty were considered especially effective. However, despite the correlation between wisdom and effective leadership, the study found no link between age and wisdom or between age and leadership skills. Some older leaders demonstrated higher levels of wisdom and more effective leadership skills while others did not. The Queensland study did not provide support for the idea that leaders become wiser with age.
A study conducted at the University of Bremen in Germany examined the relationship between leadership, age and the transformational, transactional and passive-avoidant styles of leadership. Transformational leaders try to get the best out of their followers by inspiring them to do more and better work in service of a larger vision of some kind. Transactional leaders motivate their followers by helping them to achieve their own career goals. Passive-avoidant leaders refuse to make important decisions and are uninvolved in the leadership process despite their leadership role.
The Bremen study found that younger leaders were more likely to use the transformational or transactional styles of leadership, both of which can be effective at motivating employees. Older leaders were more likely to use the ineffective passive-avoidant style. The study suggested that younger leaders were motivated by career ambition and that many older leaders were not. Older leaders who continued to use the transformational or transactional leadership styles were often motivated by the desire to leave a meaningful legacy.
According to the Bremen study, older leaders who believed they could leave behind a lasting legacy were frequently motivated and effective, while those who believed they would leave no legacy behind were often not as effective as leaders. The study also found that female leaders were much more likely than male leaders to believe they could leave a positive legacy behind. Similarly, a 2007 study at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln found that female leaders frequently became more effective at using the transformational style of leadership as they became older. To motivate older leaders and managers, emphasize the concept of leaving a positive and enduring legacy.