Should you ever put a younger person in charge of older employees? How do you manage a team of people who are more experienced and older than you?

Organizations need new employees and new leaders, but, sometimes, putting a younger or newer person in charge can cause quite a problem. New leadership makes some long-time employees feel insecure, which may cause them to shut down or try to sabotage their new leaders.

New leaders are often thrown into the fire, unequipped and unprepared to manage an older and a more experienced team, so how does someone with less experience gain respect and lead employees who are skilled and older?

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Worst Practices

Before we discuss best practices for managing a team of people more skilled or more experienced than you, let’s discuss some of the WORST practices. It’s important to remember some leadership basics like, if your team likes you, they will work hard for you. Remember few people would ever want to see you fail, and to ensure you succeed, follow this advice:

  1. Don’t act like a know it all. Know-it-alls come across as cocky and stubborn, and good leaders aren’t either of those things. The know-it-all attitude could also cause those who were on your side to resent and turn on you.
  2. Don’t talk down to or disrespect your team – always show basic decency, and be especially respectful towards those who are more experienced or older than you.
  3. Don’t make threats or use intimidation tactics. Most older and experienced employees aren’t easily intimidated, and, by threatening them, you’ll only show poor judgment, especially a lack of confidence and self-control.
  4. Don’t ignore your team’s contributions. Celebrate them. If you ignore or pretend to listen to your team but dismiss their contributions, you will lose their support and respect.
  5. Don’t be a glory hound. A glory hound is someone who revels in glory and attention. It is not an attractive quality, and as leaders must earn the respect of their team, being a glory hound will not help you do that.
  6. Don’t be scared. If someone on the team doesn’t like you or respect you, they will observe when you react to their negativity and possibly leverage it against you.

Best Practices

So, the boss puts you in charge of a team of savvy veterans who have been with the company longer than you and have forgotten more than you will ever know. How do you win them over? Here are some best practices:

  1. Remember that they are human just like you, and they will want the team’s projects to be a success (most of them will, anyway). So, find your helpers by identifying those who want to help versus the ones who only have problems and complaints without solutions.
  2. Be transparent with the team – tell them about the entire project and the overall goal. Give them as much information as you are allowed to give, starting with the information they need most.
  3. Be careful of haters. Just as you have identified the helpers, identify the “haters” – the ones who do not respect your leadership (for whatever reason) and have an honest discussion with them. Ask them upfront and directly, “What is the main issue?” Sometimes it has nothing to do with you and more to do with them (maybe they are feeling left out or overlooked). Either way, get to the bottom of their conflict with you, and isolate them (temporarily) so they won’t become a distraction or hindrance to the team.
  4. Be sure to acknowledge the contributions of the team. If someone offers a reasonable suggestion, talk it over and consider the pros and cons of their idea. Incorporate the positive aspects of their recommendations whenever possible.
  5. Share the credit (but take the blame). One sure fire way to earn respect is by acknowledging the team’s hard work and dedication. And, if things go wrong, a true leader takes responsibility without pointing fingers or calling out poor performers publicly.
  6. Don’t be afraid to make decisions, even if the decisions you make are unpopular—when your teammates know your intentions are good, they will be more likely to trust you and less likely to complain.

It’s a very simple concept, lead your team the way you would want to be led, regardless of age or experience.

Chris Fields

Chris Fields is an HR professional and expert resume writer with more than 13 years of experience as a former practitioner and current HR consultant. He is the curator of two websites: CostofWork.com and ResumeCrusade.com , and contributes HR-focused content to many others, including PerformanceICreate.com and SmartRecruiters.com . He has been listed by the Huffington Post as one of the “Top 100 Most Social Human Resources Experts to Follow on Twitter”, one of the “Top 40 under 40” by the HR Blogger Network, one of the “25 Must-Read HR Blogs in 2013”, and also featured on Oprah.com. He is very active with the Society of Human Resource Management, working closely with conference directors, communication chairs, and social media teams from Illinois, Oklahoma, and Tennessee to develop social strategies to engage attendees and enhance their conference experience. Chris earned his master’s degree in Labor and Human Resources from Ohio State University. In 2005, he moved back to his hometown of Memphis, TN, where he has developed a reputation for helping his clients create HR strategies, and individuals master the tough economic challenges of the South.

4 Comments

  • Avatar Kyle says:

    Gen X managers need to learn how to motivate and manage the talent pool of older workers. Both generations have very different views of the other and will need to learn how the other generation operates.

  • Avatar Laura says:

    Thank you for the article. Older workers need training as much as younger workers—just as much, just as often. Therefore, investing in communication and training is always a good idea.

  • Avatar Brian J. says:

    The key to succeeding while managing older employees is to make sure that older employees need to be reassured of their value to the company.

  • Avatar Kristina says:

    This is a great list Chris! I needed this several years ago when I was over a team where everyone was older than me and had plenty more years in industry than I did. I think taking away the idea that “they are older” and just approaching it as managing adults/just other humans in general helps you keep from clouding your judgement and approaching it in a way that is going to make things worse!

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