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What young leaders must do to effectively lead older generations

By Nancy Nzalambi | July 19th 2020
African men and women holding a round table discussion. [Courtesy, Standard]

Moira Lawler says, “Effective leadership doesn’t have a minimum age requirement, but tact is especially important in such situations.” Thanks to power dynamics, it is becoming a common trend for young professionals to lead teams composed of people old enough to be their parents. Despite there existing dissimilar ways of doing business, these young leaders can successfully perform their roles without causing frustration among the older folks. Here are some pointers from career experts.

Own it

You might have displayed exceptional leadership especially during times of crisis, someone whose opinion matter noticed and recommended you for the promotion. Your managerial job now becomes your new domain. Own it.

Your subordinates can easily pick up the aura of self-doubt if you let it spill over. More often than not, leaders set the mood at the workplace. Provide the source of calmness and leadership and your age won’t even matter.

Humility goes a long way

Younger managers may want to validate themselves that they are not a promotion mistake. This need to get validated can result in an awkward relationship with subordinates. They may be suspicious if at all you will be up to the task. Humility, sometimes misconstrued as a weakness, it is a must-have trait for any leader. Humility doesn’t translate to you subverting your grasp of management tactics because of your age. Once a leader has learnt the art of evaluating criticism with confidence, it empowers not only him but also the team that he is leading. You will be able to see yourself accurately and appreciate the inputs of others. Such a culture is infectious and it sets the pace for high engagement and creativity in the team. Creativity is the root of sustainability. Once a young leader continuously ensures sustainability, he or she is geared a succeeding in your role.

Bear with competent mistakes

All leaders, young or old, make mistakes. Novel ideas even with flawless execution may bring unforeseen errors. Embrace such mistakes as they form an integral part of growth. Through such competent errors, creative solutions are found to eventually cultivate a culture of healthy risk-taking. If your company cannot afford other means of employee development such as formal courses for a start. If otherwise handled, the workplace will be striving for perfection. Perfection gives the false satisfaction that you deliver error-free work. However, what it contributes to is the cowardice to challenge the status quo. This limits creativity and your subordinates will always have an excuse or someone else to blame when mistakes occur. 

Traditions matter

Keep in mind that your job is to steer the workplace into more success. Traditions of a company are what differentiate it from its rivals. So, do your homework. As much as you want to bring in a dose of fresh air, introduce new inventions and do a complete overhaul that is meant to bring in more business, be mindful of the traditions of the company. Learn how to infuse the company’s culture with your style of leadership. One way to ensure you achieve your vision is to help the team grow.

Don’t be a pushover

“Older doesn’t always mean wiser, but what it does usually mean is more experienced.” Ashley Stahl. Dot not be compelled to undercut your knowledge. It can be demoralising if age—something out your control- will be used to undermine your reputation and dictate your performance. Some older employees may find it hard to take instructions from a younger and in their terms “less experienced” leader. In some ways, you may find them piling work on your desk. While you want to show support to your team members, holding them accountable for their job description will stamp your authority.

Throw away your stereotypes

It is often assumed that older workers are difficult to train. As much as this may not always be the case, we tend to safely have this notion at the back of our minds until they prove themselves otherwise. Additionally, having been in the company for way longer may not directly translate to them knowing what is expected of them.

What a younger manager needs to do is communicate clearly and acknowledge their need for training as much as a younger worker would be considered. Their life experiences at the workplace offer invaluable lessons since they know the ropes. It is in a younger manager’s best interest to value and tap into the wealth of knowledge older workers have and encourage team members to learn from them.

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