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I was elected to be the first woman to lead Dartmouth in over 250 years—and I still doubt myself. Here’s why it’s a good thing



If it feels like the winds of change are upon us, it’s because they are. After decades of leadership, senior leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, former COO Sheryl Sandberg of Meta, and former adidas CEO Kasper Rorsted announced they will leave their legacy. Their empty seats are waiting to be filled by a wave of upstarts.

We saw this coming. The oldest of the baby boomers (of which there are 76.4 million) have reached retirement age since 2011, making this leadership vacuum inevitable. What is less predictable is how long it will take them to resign. The The average age of CEOs in 2008 was 46 years old – today 54. The Senate is the body longest life span it happened to Congress that was dominated by over 60s. Two of our three most recent presidents are baby boomers.

Thanks mainly to advances in medicine and technology, but also what is becoming a common desire or need To stay productive beyond their own retirement years, many of our baby boomer leaders have chosen to extend their careers, being more productive than previous generations.

As a result, the slow flow of new blood comes with a price to pay. By allowing power to rest in the hands of baby boomers, we have created a gulf between adults in a world far more unequal than today and younger generations. than those who clearly see the shortcomings of progress, no matter how difficult. win.

At a time when so many of our hottest culture wars (including climate, freedom of expression, work culture and diversity) is underway between generations, it’s no surprise that our younger generation is fed up with the old ways of doing things. And no wonder why they’re trying to take the lead.

We are psychological inclinations believe that generations after us are flawed, especially in areas where we excel. Thanks to memory bias — a mental blind spot that makes the way we remember the past more subjective than we see the present — we must be rooted in the success of our leaders. new religion, younger.

Next fall, at age 47, I will be among a wave of new leaders taking on a new vacancy as I become Dartmouth’s first female president in its 250-year history. And it will be difficult for me to be alone. There will be a lot of new people filling the seats of university presidents who are retirement in droves, and new faces in Congress like 25 years old Maxwell Alejandro Frost, who will be the first to represent Gen-Zers. Even the U.S. men’s soccer team will play as the second-youngest team at this year’s World Cup.

For those of us in new power, we have a lot to prove. Our only path to success is to accept that we (and those around us) will sometimes doubt ourselves and that some worry is actually a good thing. In other words, if you’re questioning yourself, take it as a sign of sanity.

Self-doubt has a bad reputation, and rightly so because it is associated with higher rates of burnout. But it’s also a reliable cue to take a closer look at a situation and gather feedback from the people around you. In a climate ruled by partisan hostility and uncertainty, a leader’s ability to receive and respond to feedback is essential. It will require countering the natural tendency that many of us have to respond to triggering our threat systems.

We can help our brains make good use of self-doubt by reminding ourselves that feeling uncomfortable is a sign of learning. from research that embracing discomfort can open our minds to new ideas. Simply by telling ourselves (and those around us) that the feedback we hear helps us grow, we open up our cognitive space to absorb the message we want to receive and use that feedback to improve my performance

Or take the imposter syndrome—the worry that you’ve tricked those around you into thinking you’re smart or talented enough to stand (or lead) the table. Again, from research that people with imposter syndrome tend to be some of the most successful, despite the fact that they feel like a fraud. The trick is to use those feelings of self-doubt more like fuel than fireto gather more information, learn from different perspectives, and hone your ideas with input from others.

Simply reminding yourself that the bodily signals that tell you you’re about to fail (sweat palms, pounding heart) are actually signs that we’re ready to start, can unleash your brain power and improve your performance. In other words, we are likely to report our anxiety in a positive light.

On the night Maxwell Frost won his election, in an interview, he said that in addition to his victory and the fresh perspective he would bring to Congress, he considered himself “a little pieces in a really big puzzle.”

As I explain in my book Suffocation, when we acknowledge the full picture of our roles beyond the win and lose binaries, us versus them, young versus old, we will be better aware of and learn from the failures that we inevitably encounter because we know the story is much more than that. I hope we all step into new shoes next year keep these words close. I know I will.

Sian Beilock, Ph.D., is a cognitive scientist, president of Barnard College, president-elect of Dartmouth College, and author of Suffocation on the psychology of failure in high-pressure situations.

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