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The Ability Theory and Age Fallacy of Leadership

Updated: Aug 11, 2022

Age prejudice is the most prevalent and harmful form of discrimination in America. I realized this when I had been a member of the Civil Air Patrol for nearly a year and applied for a leadership position in my unit. I was the most experienced applicant and had the best recommendations but was denied the position. My unit commander took me aside and told me the only reason I didn't get the position was that I was only thirteen years old. This was the first time I realized that people misunderstand how age affects ability.

Just as I did, many young people strive to enter the professional world or gain experience from leadership roles in their community. These aspiring leaders often encounter resistance from society due to a subconscious view of how age affects ability. I refer to this the Age Fallacy, and, without meaning to or realizing, the people who believe this fallacy succeed only in restricting the development of future leaders.

The Age Fallacy can be broken down into a simple formula: A = E + M = B. This describes the view that Age leads to Experience and Maturity which are equal to Ability. While at first glance this may seem accurate, it is inherently incorrect. This equation relies on the assumption that just because someone has lived longer than another individual, they must be more capable than a younger person. Look at the people you work with everyday and you will see examples contrary to this belief. We can all think of a young man or woman who is more capable than most 30 year olds we’ve interacted with in the last week. If the aforementioned formula is true, why are there so many outliers? Most rules aren’t considered fact when they’re broken as often as they are enforced, the English language and its grammar is an exception. Realizing that there had to be a reason for this misconception led me to define the Age Fallacy Formula, and later to create a counter-theory to explain the outliers.

Before I elaborate further on how the Age Fallacy is incorrect, I should introduce to you the Ability Theory: AO = E + M = B. This formula describes that Age provides Opportunities, which, when those opportunities are taken, lead to Experience and Maturity, and, as established, these lead to Ability. The addition of O to this formula changes everything about how we perceive the issue. When O is added to the equation, the issue of the assumptions that the Age Fallacy Formula faces is removed. The “O” factor recognizes the fact that Age only gives you opportunities. No matter how old you are, if you don’t take advantage of opportunities, you won’t have any kind of ability. On the other hand, even a teenager can prove to have more ability than an adult if that teen takes advantage of enough opportunities. Age is simply the conduit for opportunity, by which ability will gradually be acquired.

The Age Fallacy will single handedly prevent the development of effective young leaders if we allow it. It is no one’s fault if they believe the Age Fallacy since it has been ingrained in society for decades, taught to us in schools, and emphasized in our communities. That does not mean we should stand by while our future leaders are prevented from developing into the men and women we need to lead our society in the coming decades. I encourage all of you to take this theory to heart. If you are an adult in a position of authority, remember that the young men and women you are working with are desperate to learn and prove their ability to you. If you are a young man or woman, remember that you will only be as capable as the opportunities you take advantage of. Letting your chances to grow pass you by while you sit idle in your room because you are told “you aren’t mature enough for that” will only leave you with an unfulfilled life. Take each opportunity as it comes and keep your goals in mind regardless of your age.

1 Comment

Nathan Sisson
Nathan Sisson
Jul 29, 2022

This article has hit the nail on the head for me. Extremely well written and most importantly made sense. In Civil Air Patrol we constantly encounter leaders who discriminate against us becuase of our age. This helps to form the concept of age and expierence! Great article!

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