Young Leader vs. “Veteran” Team: main problems and solutions
How to be a young leader, when you come to a team where subordinates are older than you? What do subordinates do when it turns out that their boss is much younger? This question is rather delicate and subtle and it requires a lot of effort on the part of the leader and a considerable share of wisdom and patience on the part of the subordinates.
Actually, it's not all about the age it is more about the leader: his or her competencies, professionalism, approach to tasks and business in general.
I once was a young Manager in a team where my subordinates were people of completely different ages and I was also a partner of a very young leader. When I talk about it, I always recall a picture from the Internet: a new employee is at the bottom of a sea and he is surrounded by sharks. A very similar situation can be observed in almost every team.
First of all, we must accept the fact that older subordinates will perceive any young leader at least with skepticism, if not with hostility. You should accept this attitude and then work on improving your authority. How? It is quite simple.
You should talk with subordinates in the language of results: do not try to prove by word that you have broad knowledge despite your age, but find out your team’s expectations of leader’s qualities and show how you use your knowledge in your work and, also, meet the expectations of the team.
Of course, if the young leader has enough knowledge and makes effort to get the business growing, developing, and working from the inside effectively, then what difference does the age make? Of course, no one can get authority immediately. A young leader will have work more than an older person to earn it. The young leader will have to demonstrate his or her knowledge and potential until the team develops confidence in the new boss.
Dealing with insubordination
What if subordinates of older age are ignoring the instructions of the young leader or actively show their disgruntlement?
For a start, we need to accept this fact because there is always a possibility of that happening. It is not worth it to fight with subordinates and to prove you are right using your powers and seniority. It will not end up well.
It is better to invite a subordinate on a personal conversation and find out the reason for the dissatisfaction that hinders the productive work. There should be no shyness, it is better to talk directly, without aggression, accusations, and other negative feelings. Next, the leader should make it clear that he or she is determined to continue a friendly cooperation and relies on the subordinate, who is an effective and competent specialist and an irreplaceable member of the team. Maybe even address the senior subordinate (as a more experienced person) for advice, depending on circumstances. Let him or her know that you, as a young leader, are always open to such interactions.
Advice for “veterans”
What do the older employees do if a young leader is appointed to their team?
First of all, you should understand that you cannot choose a leader, as you cannot choose your parents.
If you see that the young leader really has the needed skills for business management and wishes to lead your team and the company to success but lacks the experience, then you should support him or her and give the opportunity to freely exercise his or her professional and personal potential. You will see how grateful the leader will be for such support, and very likely, you will find yourself in the core team of most trusted people.
The opposite is also possible. I was in a partnership with a younger leader and we had to stop working together. Our professional relationship fell apart because straight after getting the power he began to realize his personal ambitions via ego trips and playing the boss, not wanting to listen to anyone or anything.
It is important to understand that for the team leader child's behavior is inappropriate: the resentment, the strut, the tantrums, the rejection of criticism, and other such reactions. In my example, there had to and equal dialogue. He had to show me that he is a grown man who can make an informed and appropriate decision, to act based on common principles of leadership, and so on. It is also important to recognize the fact that, in spite of young leader’s knowledge and potential, he or she is younger than the colleagues and therefore the leader must be comfortable with the possibility of obtaining advice from them.
In conclusion, young leaders often lack the inner maturity for the position, which also requires great professionalism and strong personal qualities. It is important for such leaders to understand that and make every effort to make sure that their work is productive and professional and not turn the office into kindergarten.