As a young leader, you’re often required to manage people who are a lot older than you, sometimes even 20+ years. These team members may meet you with a reluctance to take direction or guidance, and you may even (wrongly) be seen as less experienced. They can be difficult to manage and it can lead to frustrations from both sides. What strategies can you implement to manage a team successfully when you’re a young leader?
Let’s start with what doesn’t work
Younger leaders leading older team members regularly make the following mistakes:
1. The first is that they go totally hands-off. They assume that this is the only way they’re going to get the older person on side. This just reinforces their view that you, as a younger person, have nothing to add.
2. The other mistake that younger leaders make is overleading, to try to demonstrate their worth. This really winds anyone up but I’ve found it can have a particularly inflammatory effect in this sort of young-old relationship.
Both strategies come from a good place, but have a habit of backfiring. What you need to do instead is find a balance between the two. You need to delegate, but check in; find the key ways you can add value to their lives; and build a relationship based on you as individuals, rather than leader and follower.
Delegation with recognition
If they are skilled employees, you can delegate to them. But don’t forget to offer recognition, support and praise where it’s needed. Frame this well – don’t praise them on the basics of their job or anything that could be seen as talking down to them. Instead, offer appreciation for the role they play and the experience they bring. Be there to give support without judgement when they are struggling with something – showing that they can trust you and showing vulnerability will build the quality of your relationship with them.
Find the key ways to add value
As their leader, you will have control over certain aspects of their work and resources they would like access to. Identify what value you can bring to them and show how you are there to make things better for them, by moving out of their way so they can enjoy their work and do a great job.
Build a relationship on you as individuals
Get to know your team members, whatever age they are. Find areas that you have in common, and avoid always talking shop. By showing that you are interested in them as a person, rather than just the results that they bring, you will build a solid relationship. This will guard against there being an awkward dynamic between them as an older team member and you as a younger leader.
Three resources to help:
- Working with people who are different to you:
- What great delegation looks like:
- Building good working relationships:
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