In my first management position, I was a 19 year-old college sophomore working full-time and leading a small staff of four people in the men’s clothing area of a major department store. I was placed in the position almost by default, because the previous manager left unexpectedly and I was already there and eager to lead. Everyone working for me was older than I was, including one man who was in his sixties.
Today, even though I have aged considerably since then, I continue to be in a position where people older than me, with more experience than I have in many areas, report to me by position. Since I work with many pastors and church planters who are starting out in their ministry and will likely encounter the same experience with either volunteers or paid staff, I am hoping this will be helpful information.
Here are 7 tips for leading people older than you:
Recognize the difference – When a person is 10, 20, or even 30 years older they likely have different needs and expectations from their leader and the organization. They may need different benefits, different work schedules, and even different leadership styles, depending on their age and stage of life. You should maximize your leadership by adapting your style to the person you are leading anyway. (For more about that idea read THIS POST.)
Give credit for wisdom – Most likely there will naturally be things the other person has experienced that you haven’t. Don’t let that intimidate you. Allow it to work for you by gleaning from that wisdom.
Stand your ground, but do it respectfully – If you are in the position, then do your job. They were probably raised in a generation where they expect you to lead, but as you should with any person you lead, be respectful. If someone is older, most likely he or she will be more sensitive to a younger leader being disrespectful and react negatively when you are not.
Learn from them – Be honest when you don’t know how to do something, such as leadership or handling difficult issue or people. If the older person knows how, let them show you. It’s okay that you have some things to learn. We all do. The older a person becomes the more in tune he or she becomes with the fact that no one knows everything.
Don’t play games if you are intimidated – I have seen this many times. The leader is intimidated by the older team member, so he or she dances around an issue or fails to handle conflict. The leader might make excuses for not knowing something or pretend they have more experience than he or she actually has with an issue. People with life experience can usually see through that type behavior.
Shoot straight with them – The fact is that the older team member will probably have handled worse situations. The age and maturity will make them less intimidated by you. Be honest with them (but respectful) and you will receive honest reactions.
Be patient with them – Sometimes the older team member may not be as culturally, technologically, or trend savvy, but he or she will make up for it by adding to the team in other ways. They may need a different form of communication or you may need to explain something in a different context.
There were many times in business where I would have never made it without someone helping me who had more experience than I had. That’s still true today. I continue to surround myself with mentors in life and church. Today there are several people older than me who serve on our church staff. I value their input and the maturity they bring to our team. One in particular has been a friend for many years. He consistently reminds me of the experience he brings to our organization.
Do you lead people older than you? What would you add to this discussion?
I also wrote 8 Ways to Lead People Younger Than You.