Leading Colleagues Older and More Experienced Than You Are
Recently-promoted leaders who inherit a role where those they lead are older and more experienced than they are confront a unique challenge. Gaining respect, trust, and credibility from those colleagues who may resent you requires a cool mind and a strong leadership presence.
In the face of this challenge, leaders who become timid, deferential, or defensive invite the more experienced team members to walk all over them. Yet, taking too strong a hand can also create unnecessary resistance and long-term rejection.
Striking the right balance is never easy.
Those team members who resent working for a younger and less experienced leader have to be won over gradually through actions and decisions. Simply demanding that others comply or yield to the initiatives put forth by a new leader is a surefire way to compound an already tricky situation.
The better alternative is to prove you have what it takes to lead anyone.
The recipe for credibility conferred to a new leader with more experienced colleagues includes three main ingredients. First, the new leader must prove they are not impulsive when making decisions. Quick reactions and decisions draw the derision of more senior colleagues because they reflect inexperience. Asking for viewpoints and deliberately slowing down before making decisions is essential to gain the respect of more seasoned team members.
Second, the willingness to say, “I don’t know,” seems like a weakness but is actually a strength, as long as it is followed by a commitment to finding out. Admitting instantly when you don’t have the facts or knowledge to answer a question tells others that you are not arrogant or above seeking a more complete view.
Third, when proposing changes, especially to strategy, new leaders are rewarded for implementing them more gradually. Enacting a big shift too quickly makes everyone nervous even in normal circumstances. By executing the change in smaller steps, the new leader brings the team along with the change and earns the benefit of the doubt step by step.
By engaging more deliberately and acting with the strength of authenticity, new leaders can show more experienced colleagues they are fortunate to have them.
When it comes to age and wisdom, it is always the direct experience of being a great colleague that matters most.