I just had a senior moment.  Not the kind associated with old age with an ever so slight hint at forgetfulness or, worse, the earliest stages of dementia, but a real honest to goodness meet up with the inescapable fact that I am now a “gentleman of a certain age.”

It happened as I was thumbing through the Brooks Brothers spring catalog that arrived in the mail.  The cover notwithstanding, at page two I dropped the magazine in shock — none of the models looked like me.  They were thin with a hint of European ancestry, one with a rangy beard and flowing locks could have been a Russian Oligarch.  He was pictured with an exotic looking woman.  None were wearing clothes that remotely resemble the Brooks Brothers fashion I have worn for years.  Gone were the familiar older models, people like me, displaying an elegant sport coat or pinstripe suit.  No, this catalog was filled mostly  with hip, extra slim fashions that, in years past, would have drawn disapproving stares in the elite so-called white shoe, very conservative law firms, banks or search firms of New York where Brooks Brothers earned its reputation as the clothier to the business elite.

Over the last five years I have noticed that the inventory at my Brooks Brothers store in Dallas was changing, featuring more and more of the stylish slim cut shirts, and sleek trim slacks, sans pleats, all at the expense of the more traditional fitting attire that men of my age require.  I was being forced to buy more and more on-line instead of seeing my old friends at the store.  And now this spring catalog!  I feel as though the abandonment is now complete. 

My senior moment led me to realize that not only is Brooks Brothers changing but so are all the rules of career and personal brand management, providing mature executives across America with their own senior moments as I learned at the annual American College of Healthcare Executives Congress last week. 

More than a few senior executives privately say they are facing doubts about their own relevance in a rapidly changing environment – shaped by the Affordable Care Act, the future negative impact of deficit reduction, a constant onslaught of new technology and cutting edge connectivity tools, and the approaching tidal wave of bright, well-educated executives eager to move to the C-suite.  Many have hinted, or expressed specific concerns, that the speed of change is causing them to question whether they can keep up the pace.

OK, so I am no longer an exclusive Brooks Brothers customer.  It is not the end of the world.  The tailors at the Neiman Marcus flagship store in Dallas, many who look like me, seem to understand my angst and they have assured me that all is really OK. 

Amid the flurry of senior moments, I would encourage current and future senior executives to keep these points in mind: 

  1. Be Kind, Be Gracious  – There is nothing more attractive than a successful executive who takes the high ground, one of the best, most rewarding places to be.  Talented, competent leaders with a solid track record who are also nice and gracious leaders are absolutely golden.  They are the type of leaders that recruiters covet.

  2. Don’t Feel or Act Threatened – The only leaders who should feel threatened by technology, their age, level of energy or the competition for the best jobs, are those who have not embraced change.  For those who think they can coast into retirement, a bad surprise is probably right around the corner.  In my own case, I have learned more in the last five years than the previous 15.  I am fascinated and excited by the technology and the possibilities created by our ever-increasing connectivity.  I have a social media consultant and I have embraced the various social networking platforms.  Meanwhile, I have come to admire many of today’s popular musicians even if I cannot wear the slim fit suits and straight legged jeans of their younger fans.  Many of my contemporaries roll their eyes in wonder, amazement or skepticism when they ask about the music mix I am listening to, but it works for me and it helps me keep connected with a new generation of clients.  (I recently had my first search with a panel comprised of under-35 candidates and I was reminded, repeatedly, that texting is the new voicemail).

  3. Embrace Change and Technology, If Not Jay Z – Unless you are in the most secure of positions, with an attractive guaranteed severance plan that will allow you to flow into retirement without skipping a financial beat, brand and career management remain a strategic imperative.  Technology and the connectivity offered by the social networking platforms as well as YouTube, provide competent executives with exciting and empowering tools to manage their brand and overcome the traditional market filters of web-based employment portals, job boards and, yes, search firms.  Smart companies hire people who can deliver results – value.  Most avoid candidates – regardless of age – who by their appearance, presence and resume appear out of date and out of sync.

Moral of the story:  Your age should not be an issue unless you allow it to become one.  I am having more fun, with greater intellectual reward than at any time in my career. 

The younger guys will have to run a little faster if they want to catch me, but that might be kind of difficult in those body-clinging new suits. 

OK, I apologize.  That was not so gracious.

© 2012 John Gregory Self