Leadership Lessons After Age 40

While this year's emerging leaders have already established their bona fides, a good many opportunities still await them.

By Ingram's Magazine


First, congratulations to the Ingram’s 40 Under Forty Class of 2022! What a stellar group of executives, professionals, and community leaders! I know our city and beyond are in your very capable hands now and into the future.  

Reading about each of you, I took a moment to reflect on the three decades I have had since my own age 40. I am pleased to say that I have had a number of careers during that period of time, as a physician, health-care executive, military officer, teacher, and consultant. I have a few thoughts I would like to share with you, all very experienced-based.

Use your chain of command. 

In my military and civilian careers, I have recognized that, because I have been so willing to work hard, pulling more than my fair share, at times, I deprived my chain of command of their opportunity to step up. In so doing, I deprived them of growth opportunities and, at the same time, my chances to teach and mentor. I changed that at some point along the way to give them the opportunity to work at the “top of their license” and push themselves with my assistance. In so doing, my own quality of life improved with better work/life balance. And they grew. Enjoy work, don’t overwork—martyrdom is highly overrated!

Conduct a symphony. 

I love the symphony, everything about it. I learned a valuable lesson from an aged conductor who, in his hand movements and facial expressions, was a minimalist with very subtle “instructions” to the musicians.  In an interview, I heard him say, “ … flail your arms and holler in the practice sessions. The final performance is for the music, not distractions from the conductor.” I took that principle to heart—prep sessions and planning meetings are for gesticulations, not when it’s “showtime.” You will demonstrate quiet competency, and oh yes, your blood pressure will thank you!

Get ready, always. 

I had the unique experience of working and living with the Eskimos in Arctic Alaska for three years, helping them with health-care delivery in their borough a thousand miles north of Anchorage, 100 miles above the Arctic Circle. It was, and is, a difficult subsistence life in their small, remote villages. There is bitter cold and difficulty in procuring the things we in “the lower 48” take for granted, like food, fuel, and transportation. There are no roads there. So how do they do it? In their words, “we are always getting ready.” Preparation, stocking up during times of “plenty,” and tuning up their heaters and snow machine motors, for example. I have taken this on as a trait—over-preparing for whatever it is that I do professionally (and personally, at times). It always pays off. I even plan my “extemporaneous” jokes.

Airspeed alone won’t work if you don’t have direction. 

I was an aerospace medicine-trained Air Force flight surgeon during my first military career. I was also trained at the grim task of aircraft accident investigation, and I learned this terrific metaphor for life: all the energy and enthusiasm (airspeed) in the world won’t work if you don’t have a direction (flight plan). Sure, crashing at high speed is dramatic, but not advised. Focus is a discipline worth learning. 

Take your own pulse first. 

This is something you can work on your whole lifetime—emotional intelligence. Self-examine where you are in time and space. Are you prepared? Are you anxious, and if so, why? In medicine, we have the old adage, “take your own pulse first when you find yourself in a difficult situation.” If you are not in control of yourself, you will not lead others well. Socrates said that “an unexamined life is not worth living.” I agree. Think of it as preparation for that next opportunity that you might not think you’re quite ready for yet when in reality, you are.

Being recognized by peers and colleagues, as you have been, means that you are well-positioned for your current career or your next one. Now is a great time for self-reflection.