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Leading People Older Than You

Oct 20, 2021 | 9m

Gain Actionable Insights Into:

  • Key mindsets to develop as a leader
  • Learning to accept and appreciate different perspectives
  • How to build trust and relationships with your team

Building Foundations

While this Power Read intends to help you with leading people older than you, you’ll soon see that what looks like common issues that seemingly come with age are really more a matter of individual mindsets. I’ve used some examples from my experiences managing people senior to me both in terms of rank and age, but the frameworks and recommendations may also be extended to teammates who share views that may be different from yours. This section addresses key skills and mindsets you should have, or work to build, as a leader. The following section offers steps on how to manage your team.

It may seem obvious, but being a good leader means having a completely different set of skills than those that have gotten you the position to begin with. You may have outperformed your peers in terms of crushing KPIs to achieve your promotion. But as a leader, it’s no longer about you. It’s about supporting your team so that you may collectively deliver desired outcomes. To do so, the soft skills that may have been ‘good to have’ when you focused on your personal performance play a much bigger role.

To illustrate: in one of my earlier roles as a sales professional, I could be categorized as a ‘ lone wolf.’ Like an artist, I focused on developing my craft, the ‘how’ of doing things. I was resourceful, and was bent on doing things my own way. I got results, so why did it matter that the methods I used were different? This attitude worked for me in that specific role – my performance exceeded expectations. But if I had been a leader, managing even a small team, this wouldn’t have worked.

Being a leader is about supporting your team to help them achieve their goals. It’s about consistently motivating them to drive collective performance – and for that, you need processes and discipline. If you have to influence or supervise several divisions in a large company, you need these systems in place. You need to establish a basic level of performance expectation that’s consistent for everyone. However, your teams should have the autonomy to recognise their weaknesses and strengths. You, as a leader, don't have to tell them about the how, but you need to help them find their path. The following are three core mindsets I recommend you build.

From a Know-It-All to a Learn-It-All

First, take away the pressure of needing to have all the answers. People often put on a show that they know everything in hopes of establishing their credibility as a leader. But the fact is, you don’t know it all. The fact is, with at least a decade ahead of you, your teammates have more experience, and arguably more wisdom, than you. If you really think about it: how does trying to prove you know everything (when you understandably don’t) help your credibility?

Instead, use the gaps in what you know as an opportunity to learn from your teammates. It’s a good chance for you to start building relationships with them. If you’ve held the view that leaders should be the ones with answers, this suggestion may seem counterintuitive. You may even argue that this hurts your credibility. But from my experience, if you’re driven by a learning mindset and are genuinely interested in what the other party has to say, showing your teammates this vulnerability actually helps make your case as an effective leader. A possible bonus: your curiosity helps them to see that needing to learn isn’t something they should be ashamed of and may seed the foundations for more open conversations.

Appreciate Your Differences

Within your team, each individual will engage with work differently. Rather than harping on the differences, take time to understand the underlying reasons. For instance, when I first started work, I usually ended the work day late and continued to socialize with colleagues after, often until 10pm or later. After my daughter was born, I often rushed off at the end of the work day, beating traffic to return home on time at 7pm. I continued to deliver and be productive in my work, but how I engaged with it changed with time. And that’s okay. Young professionals may be more likely to give 200% but there’s no reason to denounce teammates who don’t. They simply have different priorities in life.

If you find yourself frustrated with teammates who have differing opinions, pause and consider their perspective. For instance, your older teammates’ lackluster response to an innovative idea might seem like a sign of resistance to change. But put yourself in their shoes and consider the multiple cycles of transformation and innovation they’ve seen new leaders push. Think about the various visions they helped to realize. Empathize with the reasons behind their relative lack of excitement. Change your expectations and start with meeting them where they are.

All this said, there should still be a basic level of expectations that is consistent for everyone. If you’re a leader in a large organization, you need to have systems in place to track that these expectations continue to be met, regardless of how your teammates engage with work. Understanding their different priorities and where they stand is really a means for you to support them as a leader.

Invest in Building Relationships

You need people to achieve success as a leader. If you are to drive their performance and support their development, they need to trust that you’re on their side. Taking time to build connections, like understanding their worldviews especially if they’re different, is a key step. Establishing emotional connections, and building something beyond the relationship stated on your organisation chart, helps you to help them.

Get to know each team individually. Take time to set up informal 1-on-1 meetings. Yes, you’re working with your teammates to achieve stretch goals. But you’re also working with them as individuals who have interests and commitments beyond the job itself. To this end, getting to know them beyond deliverables can make a difference in how you communicate, and how you engage with them as their leader.

For instance, if you have to explain a tough call that they may not be happy with, trusting your rationale behind the decision can help to ease the blow. If you seek to empower them, something I’ll break down more in the next section, they need to trust that they’re heard. If you’re trying to find common ground and reach consensus across your teams, having emotional buy-in would make a world of difference.

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Pierre Samson


Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise



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