Leadership

Managing others who are older than you

The workplace has always been multi-generational: the older generation led, the younger generation followed.

Today the story sometimes follows a different script. Young entrepreneurs are starting their own businesses and are younger than their workforce.

1. Know that you were picked to be a leader by others with experience

Vic Nolan, Clubhouse Manager at Enterprise Car Club, currently manages a number of individuals who are older in years and has managed people who are close to retirement age. She says, “Don’t be afraid to be someone’s leader just because you’re younger. Forget about age – that is just an unconscious bias. Think about their performance and what you need to say to them as a person.”

2. Lean into your strengths and recognise your team can help you get better at what you do

Chris Raby, Enterprise Car Club’s Head of Operations, currently manages a team of fleet managers where he is the youngest. He says, “Use your weaknesses as strengths. If you don’t know something ask for help. Make it clear that your focus is on making the department or branch stronger and that you need help to achieve this. You can earn respect by showing that you are willing to listen to your team’s solutions, and that you can transform ideas into benefits for everyone. This brings positive engagement and open communication, both of which are vital in a fast-paced environment like Enterprise.”

3. Remember: the boss can learn new tricks

Vic Nolan says, “Older people may bring experience of dealing with difficult situations and may be better prepared to cope when there is, for example, a complaint. Their experiences may have made them more resilient.”

4. Recognise your common ground may be different

Vic Nolan says life stages can impact workplace behaviour. She says: “You have to disregard age and focus on the individual.”

She advises thinking about how priorities and motivations may be different at different life stages. “The outlook of someone with a family and a mortgage may be different to someone who has just finished their studies. Their work/life balance will be different – and the pace of work that they will prefer. But don’t assume older people want slower! Think about what will motivate each member of staff individually.”

Dependents are another important factor that can change with age. They may be a guardian to a younger sibling, or a carer for a parent or other relative.

“Health is another consideration that changes through life,” says Vic. “You don’t need to be a GP but think about how different types of work may be more suitable for someone at a different age – or not. Be open to have the discussion if a staff member has an age related health issue that they need to discuss with you. This will help you grow as a manager.”

Successful businesses bring together all generations, personalities and talent to succeed toward a common goal by making the most of people as individuals. Age does not have to be a deciding factor.

Older people may bring experience of dealing with difficult situations and may be better prepared to cope when there is, for example, a complaint.

by Ray Prodanov

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