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Is 78 too old to lead?


With a new US president now in situ, Head of Happiness, Stephanie Davies, asks whether age should define anyone’s leadership ability.

Is age just a number?

At 77, my dad is still a business titan, striding across his territory, selling Everest home improvement products, breaking targets and leading a team of double-glazing disciples. His weekly rousing team-building emails are legendary, peppered as they are with bizarre metaphors and sales speak straight from the eighties. This works on the Isle of Man where he lives because culturally, the time zone there is around half-past 1973. Age hasn’t slowed him down. The word ‘retirement’ is not in his vocabulary. Yet we live in a world where generally, people are expected to stop working at 75.  

Increase in liability

Some argue that as people get older, they have less to offer the workplace. That they become liabilities due to increased risk of ill health and decline in ability. This was one of the central narratives used by the Republicans in the US election campaign last year. That ‘sleepy Joe Biden’ at 78, wasn’t up to the job. Admittedly, he is not as young as 68-year-old Vladimir Putin, recently photographed exposing his strangely hairless chest while wading through an icy plunge pool towards a cross made of ice. Or as virile as Boris Johnson, who, at a mere 56 is still capable of impregnating women over 20 years his junior. By these standards Biden is off the pace. But is he up to the job? I’d say so. You only need to listen to his rousing inauguration speech for the answer. It was passionate, intelligent, measured, honest and mature. Everything that the rambling idiocy of the past four years of US leadership was not. Can he lead at the grand old age of 78? Of course, he can. And it’s because of his age and experience that he’s the right man for the job at this time.

Capable Hands

He walks into a workplace decimated by years of mismanagement, divided into factions and battling an existential crisis. A place where the former incumbent has done everything in their power to poison the well before they leave. It is arguably the toughest managerial role in the world right now, if not of all time. At an age when most men his age are easing into their twilight years and looking forward to a future of joint pain and erectile dysfunction, Biden is tasked with saving the free world. He’s going to need lots of Sanatogen. But I would argue that it’s precisely because of his age that he stands at least a chance of success. He inherits a country that doesn’t need a youthful firebrand to sort out its problems. It needs a safe pair of capable hands. Ones that are attached to a real human who has lived through tragedy and hardship and can empathise. 

Experience over youthful energy

Career politicians are often scoffed at. But at a time when experience and knowledge are needed to solve the myriad problems the USA faces, the best person for the job is someone who understands the landscape intrinsically, someone who has been around the block. Thanks to his age and a thirty-plus year political career, Biden brings wisdom and experience. He understands the problems and does not under-estimate them. In government, as in the corporate world, the last thing any organisation in crisis needs is inexperience in the form of youthful energy. It will not be plain sailing for him. He’s going to need support from a dynamic team… and Pilates. A full four-year term may well be too much for him. But at this very moment in history, does the most powerful and divided nation in the world need a 78-year-old leader? Ask my Pops.

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