“You always need to keep young ears.”
— Singer Sir Tom Jones
Sir Tom Jones — Thomas Jones Woodward, OBE — is a Welsh-born singer whose rugged good looks and massive voice propelled him to fame in the mid-1960s, first in the UK and in the early 1970s in the US, but it was his “young ears,” his keen sense of the changing tastes of those most likely to buy his music and attend his concerts, that kept his singing career successful for such a long time.
Now 75, Sir Tom is recording new songs. He recently released a new CD, Long Lost Suitcase, and continues to perform more than 200 concert dates a year. Clearly, he has adapted and changed to appeal to the tastes of newer, younger fans while tweaking his portfolio since the vast majority of his fans are much younger than he is.
He is beyond financially secure but he keeps working because that is who he is — a man with an outsize passion for his work.
During his career he has sung all sorts of music — pop, rock, R&B, show tunes, country, dance, soul, and gospel – and has sold more than 100 million records. Along the way some things that should not change did not change, he has been married for 58 years to same woman, his teenaged sweet heart Melinda Trenchard. While his resume of success, personal and professional, is impressive, it is his ability and willingness to adapt that makes him especially interesting to me.
And here’s the central question: what does his story, his outlook on adaptation and change and his incredible career have to do with a senior executive’s career brand, or a blog on career brand management? A lot, actually.
In my business sector, healthcare, not a week goes by that I don’t hear compelling evidence of executives who have failed to keep “young ears” — to stay abreast of changes in process, style and rapidly changing market needs of a customer base that is rapidly changing.
I doubt seriously if there are any hard and fast percentages for the number of executives over the age of 50 who are steadfastly resistant to changing their ways of getting things done — how they communicate, how they project themselves in personal interactions, how they engage employees, customers, employees and key stakeholders — in short, how they lead, but I am willing to safely bet the farm, that number will be surprisingly high.
Why does any of this matter?
It matters because unless leaders in that 50-plus age group plan to retire early, or to be sent unceremoniously out to pasture, they must take the time to embrace not only the structural changes that are occurring within their industry but to assess how to adapt their leadership style. Gone are the days when a change-resistant CEO could rule, or a senior executive survive, believing that there was no other way but their way. “This is the way I have always done it with success in my career and I do not see the need to change now.” Gosh, I have heard that a lot. Too much.
If you are one of the many who fall into this category, please understand that your younger customers, your young employees, including physicians, could probably not agree less.
When the drivers of an industry begin to revolve around the reality that the scope of change is expanding and the speed of change is accelerating, it is not the time to plug your ears and take a deep dive in the muck of intransigence.
Personal change is tough and that journey usually gets hung up on the front end because the offending executive is clueless that he or she needs to change. Along the way, this process is easily derailed because many executives are not willing to publicly admit they need help changing what had been a bedrock dimension of who they are as an individual. “If I admit that I have a weakness, I wouldn’t be surprised if my board began to doubt my judgment, my ability to run the business,” one uneasy CEO told me last year. “I am not comfortable taking that risk.”
But the truth is, what got you to where you are today, will not get you to where you want to go. (Marshall Goldsmith, PhD).
There are more than enough executive coaches who are capable of helping you navigate these waters, including the hard part — how to confide in your board in a positive way that will win their support for your change journey.
Editor’s Note: Nancy Swain, a member of the JohnGSelf + Partners team, has more than 20 years of experience helping executives adapt to new operating and market conditions. She is a master’s prepared psychologist and a former instructor at SMU, Dallas. To learn whether Nancy is the right coach for you, contact her. Nancy@JohnGSelf.Com