Leading Despite the Age Gap
“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” — Mark Twain
Being a young leader can present its own set of challenges, especially when leading a team of older, more experienced individuals. You might be intimidated to step up and take charge when your team members have a wealth of life and professional knowledge at their disposal. However, as a young leader you bring your own set of strengths to the table. Your youthful energy, fresh ideas, and open perspective can help you lead effectively. You are more likely to be aware of upcoming trends as well as more likely to take bigger risks without overthinking it.
I remember when I was first tasked with leading a team of seasoned professionals in my late twenties. I was intimidated, to say the least. But as I got to know my team, I realized that they were more than happy to share their experiences and insights with me. By taking the time to curiously ask questions, listen and learn, I gained valuable knowledge and perspectives that helped me lead more effectively:
Different ways to communicate and working styles
As our ways to communicate and work were so different, it was easy for me to observe the differences and more important: learn that there are big differences. They might already have had many arguments and fights in their life and learned not to let it get to your head, whereas I am much more susceptible to influence through my emotions. Now I think I am better to notice these differences even when they are only marginal to my own ways.
Learning from past experiences
My elder colleagues had experiences I never made and were already working in different markets with different challenges. Listening to these stories of past successes and failures helped me to gain a broader spectrum of second hand experiences. It’s like storytime as a child. Listen and learn.
In addition to technical experience they had a lot of conversations with different people. They got to know a multitude of behaviours and were happy to share these experiences. Maybe the 50-year-old had experiences with teams in a harsh environment and knows their way around. Maybe the calm and concentrated worker had their own problems with anger management in the past. Them helping in team constellations, taking over leadership especially in difficult situations and deescalating situations really helped me in the moment and to learn from it in the long run. I am very thankful for that.
To overcome the age gap, it’s important to focus on what you can contribute to the team effort. Believe in yourself and your abilities, listen and learn from your team members, and be open to feedback. Show them your dedication and hard work. Step out of the crib and lead the elderly be example, not by walker. By doing so, you’ll gain their respect and trust. I strongly believe: as long as I give my best, I can motivate people to follow my example. Do the same.
Being a young leader can be challenging, but it’s also an opportunity to bring a unique perspective to the table. Embrace your youth and use it to your advantage, and you’ll be well on your way to leading a successful team.
Until then, Marc out.