4 Essential Principles for Managing Employees Who are Older Than You

How do you manage people who are all older than you?

Take it from me, I know the challenges that come with this dynamic. I’ll call it my first “baptism of fire.”

When I started my first “real” leadership position, I was 22 years old. As the VP of a small hospital system, I was responsible for managing more than three dozen employees. Each one was older than I. In fact, one nurse’s date of hire was the same year that I was born!!

I heard the comments behind my back, and some to my face; “wonder how long ‘til blondie gets chewed up and spit out” and “I’ve watched so many managers come and go, and when you’ve left I will still be here”, etc. Whatever your industry, it’s very likely as an emerging leader that you’ll face the challenge of managing individuals from various generations. Here are some tips for leading young, and establishing rapport in the face of what can be “messy” generation gaps:

1. Treat all employees with genuine respect. Regardless of your leadership experience, your character and conduct trump pretty much all other accomplishments. If people see you sincerely care about their roles and needs, they won’t see age … they’ll see you for your qualities as a person and leader. As the saying goes, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

2. Listen. It’s good to get in the habit of seeking out conversations with all employees, communicating often throughout your teams and departments. The more you get to know your staff through these conversations, the better you’ll be able to provide resources. And the more you know each person – their talents, abilities and how they contribute – the more effectively you can engage, inspire and acknowledge them.

3. Lead by example. Set the tone by exhibiting the integrity, work ethic, and attitude you hope to see in your team. Twenty-somethings often get a bad rep for being “entitled.” If your contributions and conduct are strong, they’ll speak for you. Show up early, stay late, and be a team player.

4. Humility is key. Early in our careers (and long into them, for that matter) there will always be smart people around us from whom we can learn — individuals whose experience and expertise far outweighs our own. As leaders, our role isn’t to be the utmost authority on all matters, but to strategically align resources to organizational goals. Acknowledge the value of others, and generously give credit where credit is due.

These four steps are only the beginning of a journey. Winning people over is a matter of trust, and that means you’re in it for the long haul … not a quick sprint. It’s not easy, but then again, nothing worth having is.

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