One of the questions I frequently get from young leaders is how to effectively lead people that are older than them or have more experience in their field. ‘They could be my parents’ or ‘they have been in this field so much longer than I have’ are common causes for young leaders to struggle with their role.
I love this question because I have been there (and still will be until I’m 80 or so) and I’m a big fan of different generations working together effectively.
There are two reasons young leaders ask this question:
One reason is that they have not been able to earn respect from their older team members yet. They struggle to achieve high performance because an age gap combined with different personalities, life stages, etc. can make it hard to connect effectively. In other words, they do not have authority apart from their position yet.
The other reason is that they have ‘too much respect’ for their older team members which holds them back from effectively leading them. They might have this innate fear of rejection or reproach.
Leadership depends on the relationships we have with the people we lead. Our position will never get us as far as constructive relationships can take us in our leadership success.
I was 24 when I first became a regional area manager in a large German retailer. Most of the store managers that I was overseeing were older than me, and some were store managers since I was in primary school.
Based on that experience and what I have learned since then, here are 5 tips to effectively lead people that are older than you.
If you have too much respect, focus on 4 & 5 (be confident and assertive). You are in the position you are in for a reason. Show respect but be confident in who you are and how you can serve them best. Communicate assertively and have a clear direction you are taking your team on, no matter what age they are.
If you have too little respect, focus on 2 & 3 (be humble and teachable). This might be the reason they might not respect you as much as you had hoped. Show respect and be humble. There is always something to learn from older people, and you can add value to their lives by appreciating them more.
On the other hand, if you respect them but they don’t seem to respect you yet, be humble and show your real self a bit more. Just because you are in the position, you don’t have to have it all together. Show that you still have a lot to learn; we all do!
In summary, ‘Know what you know, and what you don’t know‘ (Ian Altman)
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