As a new General Manager, you may find that your first challenge is how to lead a team that’s older and more experienced than yourself.
You look around the room in your first meeting and see some grey hairs, some wrinkles and a sea of knowledge and experience about the business compared to your small ‘pond’.
Luckily learning the best way to manage people with more experience and knowledge is not rocket science, it just involves incorporating a few simple rules into your management life. Rules that will not only create a better working environment but lead to consistent results.
Step 1: Understand the different stages of a career.
I still remember the first conversation I had with one of my salespeople in New Zealand when I was promoted to regional sales manager 30 years ago. John was in his mid 60’s, had grandchildren and was pretty set in his ways of working.
In describing his goals for the future John created an interesting analogy. Imagine a mountain, and imagine you are on one side looking for a way up, now look to the other side of the mountain, see the guy wandering down the slope, that’s me!” “I will work hard, but I am on my way out. As long as you understand this analogy, things will work between us.” We enjoyed a good laugh then and there, but I could see his point. I was at the beginning of my career, looking for ways to get promoted and make an impact. John, on the other hand, was just looking to spend time with his family and get a regular paycheck so he could finish paying off the house he had bought 20 years before and remain involved in his local church and community.
When you look to your team members, remember the mountain and where you in scaling it, in relation to the older person you are managing.
Step 2: Never pull the “I’m the boss” card.
I found it was a big mistake as a young manager to let authority go to my head.
Instead of looking for ways to use your power, let your older direct reports know that you are there to help them, not boss them around. Offer them assistance in fulfilling their job responsibilities better and faster, but always do so with a helpful spirit. They will often help you more than you could ever help them.
Step 3: Get to know them personally, show them you care.
I found in a work environment, especially when you are responsible for a group of people, that the personal side of things can often get lost as you focus on achieving your targets. It is important to get to know your people, as people not just as team-members. This is even truer for employees older than you. Learn about their families and what they like and dislike. I’m sure their passions will be much different than yours, but if you take interest in them, it will foster a strong sense of loyalty. Typically, I’ve found most people expect that their manager will tell them they need something every time they interact. Try to make a conscious effort to interact with your team members and not ask for anything. At first they will probably respond, “what do you want?” when you come speak to them individually, but they will be surprised when you don’t have an ulterior motive. This will make them realize you are different than other managers they had before.
Step 4: Adapt your communication.
Being good at communication means knowing when to listen and when to share. In the early conversations I had with my team members, my mind would speed ahead to the points I felt I needed to make to show that I was capable. After a while of dominating the conversations, I realized that the others felt their ideas and opinions were being dismissed. so try to quiet the voice in your head that wants to prove itself. If you can it will enable you to really hear what your team members are suggesting. If your colleagues feel valued, respected, and heard, they’ll notice your maturity, not your age.
Also consider that people of different generations communicate differently. While we are comfortable with emailing someone, receiving a text message response and then calling to confirm things, older workers often are not comfortable with this. Make sure that you learn how your employees like to communicate and use this way to interact with them. Try to use your understanding of DISC styles to facilitate communication. Generally face-to-face communication is best for those extrovert and social styles, and written memos best for the “C” styles.
Step 5. Never display how panicked you feel
All too often, the mood in the office is dictated by your temperament. I knew a youthful General Manager who was extremely capable, but she was easily overwhelmed when things didn’t work out to her planned schedule and would often allow her frustration to spill over onto the rest of the team. While I knew managers of all ages who shared this trait, her youth and inexperience was blamed by her team, and they started looking for a steadying hand elsewhere in the company. In this situation I counselled her, never to outwardly show her frustrations, but to hold this back when inevitable bad news or changes of plan came around, and find a way to release this frustration and anger outside work though exercise or meditation.
If you are chaotic and unsure of yourself, your team will pick up on it. If you can be a source of outward calm, and considered reason for your team, your age won’t matter.
Step 6: Genuinely, Ask their opinion.
This step is the most difficult and I’ve found constantly overlooked. Generally, when an older employee has a younger manager they feel threatened, and reminded that they are getting old and may not be getting that career move they’ve desired. They have a strong desire to feel valued and that their opinion is important and that they are still contributing.
Remember that Older doesn’t always mean wiser, but what it does usually mean more experienced. As a new GM discover how to leverage your team’s strengths to achieve your business targets. That’s why it’s critical that you take the time to get to know your staff as individuals. Identify their unique talents and strengths, and look for ways to incorporate their opinions and experience into the business. You will perform better as a leader when each individual member of your team is given the encouragement and tools to per themselves.
When it comes to decisions that affect the team, get their input and do what you can to implement their ideas. When it is not possible to get input, tell them. Also, any time you need to direct the team to do something, remember to tell them why your approach is necessary.
From my experience, after incorporating these 5 steps, the “age” thing was no longer an issue.
Good luck incorporating these ideas into your management, and please share some results in our comments area.