The Shift of Mid-Career Leadership
Updated: Jul 21, 2019
I spend most of my days with busy executives at the height of their careers. Now in their mid 40s and 50s, these people are doing the work they had imagined. Successful, seasoned, strong-willed, often there is something more simmering under the surface.
That something more, bubbling under the surface, is a question that perhaps they haven’t thought to ask before (and if they have, it has been a while). It’s a question about identity, about calling, and about purpose.
Many of these successful leaders are wondering:
“Is what I I am doing lined up with who I want to be?”
“Does the successful life I’ve created deliver me to what I actually want?”
These are significant questions, and I always feel privileged when I am entrusted with these deeper conversations. What unfolds as we talk together is an exploration that runs to the core of who that person is: their identity. In these conversations the person I am coaching tends to get quiet. Reflective. They lean back in their seats and really wonder. Often the answer does not come all at once, but bit by bit.
Listening and reflecting with these leaders I’ve found there are 2 important shifts that take place as we dive into their questions:
Their life, their talents, their work and their relationships – both personal and professional – are reframed to create a new interpretation of their lives. Think about the Broadway musical Wicked, which turns traditional fairy tales into new stories about the lives of those characters: when we re-interpret our own stories, powerful new narratives can be written. Narratives that better inform the lives we actually want to lead.
With a new frame around the events and experiences of our lives, perspectives shift. As people reframe and reinterpret their lives, they come to have a fresh, clear understanding of themselves. Their self-understanding matures. This new viewpoint changes their focus, and they begin to see new futures on the horizon. People move forward with something more than confidence from these conversations.
They move forward with assurance.
At this point the path forward is clearer. Changes in priorities are made. A new life and leadership rhythm emerges. The quality of leadership on the other side of this reckoning is much more powerful, grounded, and trusted by both their peers and their loved ones. A more authentic version of the leader now exists.
These leaders then settle back into their lives with a new sense of ease. Sometimes they have made big external changes. Sometimes smaller ones. At times the only change is how they understand their own story. This new self-understanding, however, brings with it an inner freedom and clarity. It changes the way they make their decisions, both the significant and the small.
If you are at a turning point in your life, wondering if how you are living is lining up with who you want to be, find a conversation partner: a coach who can help you reframe and reinterpret your life in a way that brings you not simply confidence but assurance. Assurance about who you are, what you are doing, and how you are called to live into the person you were created to be. With this assurance, you will find the second half of your life in leadership profoundly rewarding.
Jennifer Owen-O’Quill is an executive coach, facilitator, and organizational consultant who is passionate about coaching leaders to thrive. Jennifer understands intimately the connection between a thriving leader and a thriving organization, and focuses on leveraging strengths and building effective strategy to create individual and organizational success. She is particularly interested in coaching leaders to achieve their desired outcomes as they navigate change and conflict. Jennifer is the Director of Leadership and Strategy for Voltage Leadership Consulting.