Each week I respond to a question submitted by a leader. Today’s question is one many leaders have had to answer at some point in their career: How does a young leader effectively lead people older than they are?
This question embodies much more complexity than I could possibly respond to in this post. The context and circumstances make a huge difference in how you might best respond in individual situations. However, I still believe there are principles to guide our actions when leading men and women older than we are. Here are a few of them.
Always show honor, dignity and respect. For some older people, having a younger supervisor will be no big deal; for others it will be earth shattering. Be mindful of their mindset. Be extremely careful not to elevate yourself or devalue them. Perhaps they wanted the job you’ve now been given. Help them adjust to the new reality. Always look for ways to legitimately honor their contributions to the team and organization.
Acknowledge the awkwardness. If you find yourself in a situation leading someone older than you, and it feels weird to you, it’s okay to name it. You may say something like this, “I’m excited about the chance for us to work together and I know you’ve got a lot of years of experience that I don’t have. So, let’s make a deal. It may feel strange from time to time, but let’s agree we’re going to help each other make this work.”
Be quick to listen and slow to speak. Stephen Covey popularized the idea of seek first to understand then to be understood. A great way to do this is to focus on listening. This is always a good idea – when dealing with older employees, it is essential to establish trust and followship. Listen first. Work to understand their perspective on issues before you share your ideas or decisions. My guess is that when you REALLY listen, the older employee will help you make better decisions.
Leverage their experience whenever possible. If someone is two years or twenty years older than you, they have experience you don’t have. How can you capitalize on their past successes? What have they learned in the past that may be helpful to you today? Don’t overlook experience. If evaluated, it can be a great teacher.
Don’t micro manage. This is my advice when leading anyone – especially people older than you. Set clear objectives, boundaries and timelines and let them do their job. If they can’t, then you have a performance issue to address. Don’t try to do their work for them.
Believe in yourself. The person who gave you your current leadership position believes in you. They selected you to lead, regardless of your age or the age of those you’ve been asked to lead. Don’t let your confidence be undermined by anyone, younger or older than you. YOU were given the ball – run with it.[GLS_Shield]