One of the most intimidating aspects of becoming a young leader is realizing many of your team members will be older and potentially more experienced than you. Some Baby Boomers may have a hard time imagining someone their child’s age is experienced enough for a leadership role. But from the Millennial perspective, if you’ve been selected and coached to take on leadership responsibilities, that should be reason enough to gain respect. The reality is, no matter how prepared and competent you are, you may have to prove yourself to some skeptical senior team members.
In many ways, just displaying the qualities of a good leader will be enough to gain respect and “buy-in” from all team members regardless of age, but here are a few challenges you may experience in the first few months as the leader of an older generation:
General skepticism. The longer you’ve been in the workforce, the easier it is to believe you’ve seen it all before. My Baby Boomer colleague likes to say “Been there. Done That. Wrote the book. Got the certificate” or my personal favorite line “I’ve forgotten more than you know about this.” So, when a young leader brings high energy and tons of new ideas, they need to be prepared for general skepticism and even negativity. One way to overcome the challenge of a skeptical teammate is to ask for their input early on. An older worker does have significant life and work experience to share. It is a mistake to be dismissive of their resistance. Instead, engage them in the process by asking for input and their perspective on ideas. Ask them how they would overcome the challenges they foresee. Help them get past looking for reasons why ideas won’t work by brainstorming creative solutions that will work.
Envy. It’s possible that your new Baby Boomer teammate applied for the new leadership role you received. Be prepared for envy and even hurt feelings. While you’re not at fault for overlooking this team member for promotion, you will likely be the target of their emotions. They may feel cheated and unappreciated. Be sensitive to these feelings, and generous with praise. Baby Boomers are known for being an extremely hard working generation who just wants to be acknowledged for their hard work and dedication. If you support your older team members and publicly share their successes, you will help them gain recognition in new ways.
Tech Issues. As the old adage goes, “it’s not what you say, but how you say it.” The medium for communication is just as important as the message itself. In a workplace full of multiple generations, there will be varying levels of technological adoption. As you look at the skillset and strengths of your team, don’t assume that proficiency with technology equals comfort. Just because your team members work on a computer all day, doesn’t mean they prefer to interact with their leaders through email or social media. Conversely, they may not even prefer to chat over the phone. If you learn how your team members prefer to communicate, you can ensure that the messages you deliver will be understood and appreciated. Being flexible with the way you communicate shows your team that you’re willing to take their needs into account.
In the end, Baby Boomer teammates want what anyone wants in a leader- someone who listens, responds, empowers, rewards, and removes roadblocks. In the end, the key to leading an older generation is just being a good leader! Have patience. Get to know your team members. Understand their vision and what motivates them. Communicate clearly and consistently. Listen closely. These are qualities of good leadership that transcend all generations.