How to Lead Someone Older Than You

How to Lead Someone Older Than You

You could cut the awkwardness in the air with a knife.  Everyone in the room almost had the exact same gasp when the words came out of his mouth,  “I have no clue why you go this job, not only are you younger than most everyone in this room, but there were a lot of people waiting in line for this job.”  Before she responded she took a deep breath, gathered her thoughts and did the opposite of what most millennial leaders would want to do, she said “I understand your position.  Can we talk about this after the meeting?” It was brilliant.  Not only had she taken back control of the room but she handled the comment with dignity, class, and maturity.

As the corporate landscape changes with time, the likelihood of people older reporting to someone younger is has increased.  Maybe you’re one of those leaders? If so, here are some of the best ways to effectively lead someone older than you.

Listen to Understand

The great Stephen Covey famously said, “Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”  As someone else is talking, many people are preparing what they will say next.  If we are all honest with ourselves, we are guilty of this on a regular basis. The challenge is wanting to prove our worthiness of our title by having all the answers immediately.  One of the most important skills a young leader can master is listening to understand. Your response doesn’t have to be immediate. You could even say, “You bring up an interesting point/perspective. Let me give it some thought. Can I get back to you by X?”

Maturity Matters

One of the easiest ways to lose the respect of someone older than you is to act immature.  There is absolutely no way around this other than to use the old saying, “It’s time to grow up fast.”  The way you dress matters, the words you choose matter, what you do on the weekend matters, how you treat people matters, and what you share on social media matters. To net it out, it all matters.  As a leader you are going to be judged. Make sure your actions align to the leader you wish to be.

Speak From a Place of Fact Not Opinion

One of the best ways to communicate is to use fact-based content instead of simply saying how you feel or using an opinion. Here’s how: read your ass off.  By reading non-stop you can quote authors, famous leaders, studies, or research. This type of approach will instantly put the older person in a place of inquisition instead of attack.

Seek Their Experience

Albert Einstein said, “The only source of knowledge is experience.”  There’s a good chance some of the older people on the team have experience in an area you lack.  As a young leader you don’t have to have all the answers.  In fact, by being curious and seeking other’s experience, it will have them wanting to help you rather be an adversary.  At the end of the day you are in this position because of your potential, and one way to keep that trajectory going upwards is to have everyone on the team behind you.

Be Quick to Give Praise and Slow to Take Credit

One of the biggest mistakes I see from young leaders is how quickly they want to take credit for the achievements of their team.  This can be an absolute dagger when it comes to leading people older than you. I am obsessed with the idea of being quick to give praise to others and slow to take credit.  When you’re humble, others will be building you up way more than anything you say about yourself.

There you have it.  If you are a young leader try putting these simple, yet challenging habits  into practice. If you’re having trouble with your team, there’s a high likelihood you’re not implementing one or more of these best practices. The quickest way to remedy your challenge is to wake up tomorrow obsessed to change for the better.

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John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft and Host of the Follow My Lead Podcast. He is passionate about the development of people. He writes and speaks about modern leadership and learning techniques. You can find him on instagram @johngeades.