Seven Tips For Managing People Older Than You

You’ve just been assigned to lead an important new client project. Upon reviewing the team you’ll lead, you realize you’re the youngest person on the team. Possibly by a decade, maybe more. 

You swear you can hear them all thinking, “She could be my daughter.”  

It can be easy to lose confidence or start to feel imposter syndrome sneaking up on you in a moment like this, especially if it’s the first time you’re experiencing it. When the working structure we’re used to – older, more experienced individuals in senior roles leading younger, more junior people – is flipped on its head, it’s normal to feel uncomfortable. 

However, current data estimates that today’s workforce is made up of five different generations. So, if you haven’t found yourself in this position yet, it’s highly likely that you will eventually. 

The first thing to remember is not to panic. If you’ve been hired for the job or assigned the project, people believe you have what it takes. And, with the right approach, your age doesn’t need to impact your leadership at all.  

Here are seven things you can do to be a successful leader when you’re the youngest on your team. 

1. Don’t Make Assumptions 

Don’t assume your team members won’t respect you because they think you’re too young. If you let this assumption take control of your management style, you might find yourself unable to hold your team accountable when you need to – or when they need you to.  

2. Get Curious About Your Insecurities 

What specifically makes you uncomfortable about being younger than your team? Is it about having less expertise? Not feeling credible? Lacking assertiveness? 

If you can get clear on what’s at the root of your discomfort, you’ll find it easier to work on getting past any insecurities.  

3. Trust Yourself 

Get really clear on the value you bring to the table. Make a list of what makes you a good leader – what qualities and skills have you used to get you to where you are today? 

If you find yourself getting stuck in negative self-talk or feeling overwhelmed with imposter syndrome, ask yourself, “Would I have been promoted into this role if people thought I was incompetent?” It’s unlikely. 

Remind yourself of this often: You belong in your role. Go back to the list of why this is true when you need to.  

4. Value Your Older Team Members’ Experience  

There is no shortcut to experience. Every year of work gives a person more perspective and exposure to potential challenges and different ways of doing things. Show your team members you understand this and that you’re eager to leverage their experience. 

Understand too, that not everyone in the working world wants to get promoted to lead a team. Many are happy to hone their skills in their area of expertise and thrive there. Not moving up into leadership does not mean a lack of skill, drive or talent. 

5. Approach Change Mindfully 

Your fresh perspective and innovative approach might be exactly why you were put in this role, so don’t be afraid to make changes. If you hear the phrase, “We’ve always done it this way,” you know it’s likely time to do things differently. 

But, seeking input before making changes can help you get buy-in and avoid pushback. Older, more experienced team members can offer insight into the reasons for existing processes and help you make the most informed decisions. 

When you do make changes, providing a clear rationale for why can go a long way in getting your team’s support.  

6. Ask for Help 

Working with a team of people who’ve been in their roles or the industry for many years likely means you’re working with a team of experts. So, ask for help when you need it. Your team will see that you trust their experience and don’t expect anyone to know it all. Asking for help when needed sets a tone of open, honest communication and helps foster collaboration. 

Consider some professional management training. It is a solid foundation of skills that will help you throughout your professional career. 

7. Know Your Role 

The notion that a boss or a leader should always be somebody older, wiser and more experienced hinges on the idea that to be able to lead a team, you need to know how to do everything your team members do.  

But this just isn’t true. 

It can be tempting to set off on a frantic mission to “do it all” in an attempt to prove you’re worthy of your position and gain your new team’s respect. This is not only exhausting (and impossible!), but it’s also not your job as a leader. 

Your job isn’t to tell your team members how to do their jobs, especially when they have many more years of experience than you. As a leader, it’s your job to create a vision and inspire and motivate your team members to join you in achieving that vision.  

Focus on being your team members’ biggest supporters and ensuring they have what they need to succeed. 

Ultimately, the strength of a team becomes exponentially greater when the expertise, strengths and unique perspectives of everyone on the team come together. When you’re all learning from one another, that’s when your team is at its strongest. 

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