The Advisor’s Corner – How Do I Lead Those Older Than Me?

How Do I Lead Those Older Than Me?Question:

How do I lead direct reports who are quite a bit older than me?

StrategyDriven Response: (by Roxi Hewertson, StrategyDriven Principal Contributor)

Indeed, the chances of leading people senior in age and experience to you are quite high given the delayed retirements and demographics we see today. This is not a bad thing; in fact, if you are good leader, you will welcome the diversity in perspective, experience, and wisdom you can utilize from within your team. In my career I rarely held a leadership role without managing people older than me, until I became the older one! There are a few key things to keep in mind to get the best from your more senior staff.

Everything we do happens through our relationships, and how we behave impacts each of those relationships. When you create a trusting, respectful relationship with your staff, you will reap the rewards over and over again. It’s also about the conversation.

You already have the ‘authority’ if you’re the boss, and frankly, if you pull the “I’m the boss” card out more than 10% of the time, and even then, only when there is no other way to get something essential to happen, you are blowing it. Just like anyone else, you have to earn respect and trust… it doesn’t come with your title. If you are feeling insecure, uncertain, and less than adequate as you carry out your role, do whatever you need to do to learn enough to feel confident. Take classes, read… and oh, by the way, your greatest teachers might just be on your staff. Welcome their wisdom and make sure they know how much you appreciate it and them.

Here are 5 things you can do that will signal you are listening and respecting – and they apply to ANY of your staff:

  1. Be EXPLICIT about your expectations, how you will measure success, and then acknowledge their performance – whether good or not so good.
  2. ASK far more than you tell. LISTEN to your people, ask them what they know, want, feel, and need.
  3. Remove the word “but” from most of your conversations – say “and” instead or end the first sentence with a period and start a new one. When people hear “but” they don’t believe anything you said before it.
  4. Say “We” 10 times more often than “I”, including in your emails.
  5. Do not say “No” first. At least listen and say what more you need or agree that you’ll at least think about it.

The fundamentals of building a highly effective team come into play here, no matter the demographics or personalities. When you know how to create safety, trust, and group synergy, you will engage everyone on your team and get the most of their talent. So ask yourself – do you know where you want to take your team? Have you made time to get to know each of your people, what motivates them, and what they love or don’t love about their jobs? Have you asked for their wisdom, letting them know the team can only succeed with everyone contributing? Have you honored their contributions?

Bottom line – every individual has a story, a whole life, and is motivated by different things. When you build a trusting relationship and establish you truly care about that person, their wisdom, and their contributions, you will get a boatload of help, respect, and you may just learn a thing or two along the way!


About the Author

Leadership authority Roxana (Roxi) Hewertson is a no-nonsense business veteran revered for her nuts-and-bolts, tell-it-like-it-is approach and practical, out-of-the-box insights that help both emerging and expert managers, executives and owners boost quantifiable job performance in various mission critical facets of business. Through AskRoxi.com, Roxi — “the Dear Abby of Leadership” — imparts invaluable free advice to managers and leaders at all levels, from the bullpen to the boardroom, to help them solve problems, become more effective and realize a higher measure of business and career success.


The StrategyDriven website was created to provide members of our community with insights to the actions that help create the shared vision, focus, and commitment needed to improve organizational alignment and accountability for the achievement of superior results. We look forward to answering your strategic planning and tactical business execution questions. Please email your questions to [email protected].

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