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  • Writer's pictureAnnie Frisoli

Leadership and THE Privilege of Aging Parents: A Journey of Compassion, Poise, and Growth

Only a handful of my nearest and dearest know I had to make a few unscheduled trips to Ohio the past two weeks, which is where I grew up and where my soon to be 83- and 87-year-old parents still reside – Let me start with everyone is doing fine and frankly my parents are pretty bad as* - we simply had a few speed bumps. 

As I reflect on my roles as both a speaker and author on the topic of leadership and daughter to my parents, I’ve come to recognize profound parallels between these two aspects of my life. Both require a deep well of compassion, an abundance of poise, and a commitment to personal and collective growth. Here’s a closer look at my inner thoughts and how these experiences intertwine and enrich each other.

Compassion: The Heart of Leadership and Caregiving

In leadership, compassion is about understanding and empathizing with your team’s challenges (both professional and personal at times), and fostering a supportive environment where everyone feels valued, heard, and that they belong. Similarly, collaborating and being on a team with your parents requires empathy. Knowing they are observing their own age, possible mobility issues, vision impairment, and/or loss of loved ones at a more rapid pace, I have learned a deeper meaning of empathy.  Just like in leadership, I need to challenge myself to do my best to offer support, not demands, to new and different situations we will all experience together with a kind and understanding heart.

Just as a leader must tune in to the unspoken needs of their team, those of us with the privilege of older parents must attune themselves to the subtle cues of our parents. Compassion in both realms means being present, offering a listening ear, and providing comfort for all of us to grow in our new experiences together.

Poise: Navigating Challenges with Grace

Poise is a cornerstone of effective leadership. Projects may not always go as planned, team members may need more time to develop skills, and setbacks are inevitable. As a leader, you learn to navigate these challenges with grace, maintaining a steady and calm demeanor even when things get tough – full transparency, this is one I am continually working on.

The journey with parents can be much the same. Poise becomes essential as you work alongside them to ensure they still see their own magnificent abilities, provide support on house maintenance or schedule trips to Trader Joe’s or the winery because they don’t like or cannot drive on the highway anymore, and cope with any frustrations they have that may come with aging. It’s about understanding that progress may look different for each person, setbacks may happen, but know, just like in leadership, your steady and consistent support is crucial for team success.

Growth: A Two-Way Street

Leadership is not just about guiding others; it’s also about your own continuous growth. Effective leaders seek feedback, learn from their experiences, and strive to improve. This journey of self-improvement is mirrored in my experience with my parents.

Caring for parents at this age is a profound journey of personal growth. It is teaching me more on resilience, adaptability, and the importance of self-care. I have learned to balance my own needs with those of my parents, to seek help when needed, and to find strength in vulnerability. Both leadership and working alongside my parents at this age is creating ways for me to grow that I might never have had otherwise, continuing to foster a deeper understanding of myself and those around me.

Trust as the Foundation

Strong relationships and a focus on trust are foundational in both leadership and working alongside my parents. In leadership, building trust and fostering open communication are vital for a cohesive team. The same principles apply when growing old with my parents.

Open, honest conversations about their needs, concerns, and wishes are essential to providing the best opportunities possible.  Due to our solid foundation of trust, my parents and I can have all the conversations, the funny ones and the tough ones, and we will see this same foundation of trust in high functioning teams. 

In both roles, you learn the importance of continuing to build trust time and time again. We can have the tougher conversations because of all the trust building moments we have gifted each other over the years.  We did not just arrive at this space of trust; we all built this trust year after year after year.  Leaders need to acknowledge that trust is built in every exchange with others and know how important trust is for a team.

Embracing the Journey

Ultimately, both leadership and being on this adventure with my parents is about embracing the journey, with all its laughs and challenges. It teaches us to be resilient, compassionate, and patient, to celebrate small victories, and to find joy in all the moments we have with other humans.

In reflecting on these roles, I am reminded that we are always forging down new paths in life and leadership – and these paths may be challenging at times, BUT they are also incredibly rewarding. The lessons learned and the bonds formed along the way with team members or family members are invaluable, shaping us into more empathetic, patient, and resilient leaders and individuals.

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