Chances are, you probably work as part of a multi-generational workforce, with colleagues of all ages sharing projects and goals.
There’s also a good chance that, as a manager, you’re overseeing colleagues who are older, and possibly more experienced, than you. But what if you feel (or know) that one of your workmates is not convinced of your competence? How do you deal with this tricky situation?
There may well be some awkward questions: aren’t you too young to know your way around this business? Why should we trust you? Are you sure you have the experience for this role? Perfectly valid inquiries, all of which I’ve had the dubious pleasure of confronting during my career.
Having once overseen a team of five people, three of whom were considerably older (and in one case more experienced) than me, I’m fully aware of the pitfalls and mistakes that await the unwary manager of a multi-generational team.
Above all, you need to establish trust, both in your abilities and in your leadership skills. When I took control, there was little doubt that at least some of my older colleagues were a little unsure of what I could do.
I was seen as too inexperienced or not yet fully familiar with the role. I began to have doubts about whether I could do the job. Maybe this was a step too far at this stage in my career.
I needed to prove — to myself and my colleagues — that I had the technical (publishing, writing, editing) qualities needed to run a team. So, over the next year, I familiarized myself with all the relevant software I would be encountering, and even undertook some additional training in my own time.
As the year moved on, concerns among my multi-generational team members about whether I was technically capable were alleviated. They began to realize I could do the job after all. And, gradually, so did I.
Yes, there were setbacks along the way. One of the older team members left, having never really accepted my new position. It was unfortunate, and something I had tried to avoid, but her mind was made up.
Another slightly older team member moved to another department to further his career. He later admitted that he had been seeking the managerial position I was offered, and didn’t want to wait for me to move on. Again, an unfortunate situation, but these things happen.
Would I have done anything differently? Well, I could have tried to use my team’s skills a little more, and given them more freedom to express themselves. Looking back, I was rather overbearing. I felt, rightly or wrongly, that I continually needed to prove myself.
After moving to another, much larger, organization, I again found myself heading a team of people, almost all of whom were older than me.
This time, my technical ability wasn’t the issue: I was a little older, with better skills, which came across in my initial discussions with the team. This role was more about providing leadership and guidance for a well-established, multi-generational group of colleagues.
I had a very experienced and competent team, and I was happy to let them take the lead on certain issues, using their knowledge to solve problems quickly. Leadership should always include a degree of trying to understand your colleagues’ way of doing things.
What are your top tips for successfully leading a multi-generational team? Have you encountered any problems? What were your solutions? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. Check out our latest article, How to Thrive in a Multi-Generational Workplace, for more on this topic.