Age defines maturity just as much as money defines success.
Having spent 7.5 years leading people of all generations immediately following college, I’ve had my fair share of assumptions made about my leadership capabilities based on age. Those assumptions, however, were quickly retracted once my work ethic and maturity were displayed.
I’ve been told I have the spirit and maturity of someone 10 years my senior. But what does that mean, exactly? Is maturity a byproduct of age? If so, I’d ask someone to explain why some grown men (and women) I know appear to have the maturity of a toddler!? But I digress.
Maturity can be defined so many ways. When it comes to leadership, however, the way I define it is—the ability to discern the needs of others and put them before the needs of the individual. As I reflect on this point, I’m reminded of my mother. Although she is no longer with me in body, the lessons I learned from simply observing her lead our family are still alive and well with me today.
Now that I am an adult, I realize how little my mother actually made in her line of work. Then I factor in 3 children to feed, clothe, and shelter and I’m immediately both defeated and amazed. There is no way $35,000 a year can go that far. But it did! Year, after year, after year. And what amazes me further is the fact that my siblings and I, as children, never noticed the strain. We knew we didn’t have a lot of money and we knew there were reasons we couldn’t get the latest toys and shoes but we had no idea the financial burden and strain my mother was really under. She, like many single mothers out there, was kind enough to shield us from that. She was mature enough to discern our need to remain innocent as children, and put it before her need to vent and share her burdens as an adult.
It wasn’t until my mother passed in 2011 that I learned her true financial situation. I was 25 and the Administer to her estate. The day I saw her W2s I wept. What a strong woman she was to continue to shield us and allow us to grow as young adults. What a mature leader she was.
In my adult life, both personal and professional, I find myself applying this very principle I learned from observing my mother. I find myself mustering up the maturity to put my personal needs and problems aside in order to meet the needs of those I serve. I implore you to do the same, with one caveat— note that there’s a difference between maturity and misguiding. It’s one thing to be mature enough to shield your team from the ugly politics going on around them. It’s a completely different thing to misguide them to believe they don’t exist at all. We knew we didn’t have much and my mother never made us feel like we did when we actually didn’t. That would have been misguiding. She did, however, apply maturity to shield us from the ugliness that came with our situation.
In closing, I address my title. When it comes to maturity in leadership, age truly is nothing but a number. It does not define the level of sensitivity or empathy you’re able to extend to those you lead. Your experiences do that.
Experiences determine maturity level. Not age.
Take a moment to today to reflect on the experiences that have contributed to your maturity. Acknowledge them, give thanks for them and leverage them as you thrive in leadership.
The 30-Year Old 40-Year Old