Are you leading a team of people older than you? Like a lot older than you... How's that going? If you're like most of the people I chat with on weekly basis it can be a struggle. Let's be honest, there are very few times in life when we wish we had a few more wrinkles and a little more gray hair then when faced with the challenge of leading a team of people your parents age. Leading those 20 to 30 years your senior is no easy task but that's the reality for many in the new world of work.
More and more young people are being tapped for leadership roles these days, and the trend goes beyond the tech space. In fact a recent study found that 50% of young professionals are already in leadership roles. A title defined by having a minimum of 4 direct reports.
People are surprised when I reveal that stat but the more you thinking about it, it makes sense. With fresh energy, new perspectives, and a wave of senior leaders set to retire, companies are thrusting young talent into new management roles. Unfortunately, not everyone looks beyond age. Age-related skepticism (and even criticism) is a challenge many new managers will face. This doesn't have to be a soul-crushing experience but it will take hard work to win the hearts and minds of your senior talent.
So what can you do?
Engage Early When starting out in a new leadership role you have to consider the fact that the folks you're leading probably have a better understanding of the business at hand and the challenges they're facing. Your job is to tap into that wisdom and perspective as soon as possible.
One young leader I interviewed this week said, “It’s a mistake to come in and shake the place up without listening first." "The biggest thing is knowing what makes people tick, so honor that. Meet with your people one-on-one. Sit down and pay attention to what they have to say, as opposed to riding in like you have to take charge." Get to know your people on personal level early and start to build trust.
Embrace your Inexperience Be careful not to fall into the trap of over-compensating for inexperience. It's not easy to admit you don't know something when you're the leader but the reality is there will be a myriad of situations and challenges that your team will be well equipped to help you handle but you have to be willing to ask for it. Saying I don't know to your team sucks but being willing to show vulnerability and honesty will earn trust. Embrace it.
Give Power to Get Power Leverage the tenure and perspective of your team. Look for opportunities when you can step back and allow your senior talent to demonstrate their expertise and knowledge with the team. Instead of you explaining a situation or challenge, let Susan the Baby Boomer in the group take the lead and walk the team through it. Boom. The dynamic shifts. She feels valued and empowered and you leverage her knowledge.
Invite them to the Game Don't make the mistake of thinking just because your senior talent aren’t banging down your door for new and exciting opportunities doesn't mean they don't want them. The reality is, they just might not be as vocal about this desire as your newbies are. You need to drive this conversation.
If you're not inviting your sr. talent to step up to new and exciting roles and projects and giving them visible roles, you're going to lose them quickly. Ask. Dig. Inspire. Find out what they want to do with the time they have left. There's no reason to have them standing on the sidelines of their career. Get them in the game!
Communicate the WIIFT Changes are happening fast. We all have to be adaptable today. When you ask your sr talent to make a change in some aspect of their work or implement some new efficiency, don't forget to communicate how it will benefit them. Clearly communicate the WHY and set clear expectations for moving forward.
Remember they've seen a lot of changes come and go. This is not their first rodeo. If you don't communicate how they'll benefit and the expectations for moving forward, they may try to ride it out it hopes of things returning to the old way. Even when you’re busy and would love to say, “Because I said so”, you owe it to your team to explain the WIIFT.
Leading a team way beyond you on the experience chart can be intimidating but if you follow these steps, you’ll lay the groundwork to earn the trust, respect, and buy-in you need to accomplish your goals.
What about you? What have you experienced when it comes to this challenge? What’s worked for you when leading up?