Steve is a 25-year-old, dynamic and highly creative executive who has just been promoted to a significant leadership role within his organisation. He is excited at the possibility of achieving results through this new role but when he meets his team, Steve discovers that everyone is a lot older and has much more experience than him. Even though he was appointed by the board as the best possible candidate for the job, Steve begins to doubt his abilities and wonders just how effective he is going to be in leading his team.
With a rise in popularity of talent development programs that specialise in fast-tracking young leaders, Steve’s problem is a very real challenge facing many young leaders today.
Many wonder how to lead people older and more experienced than themselves, but the answer is quite simple. You lead them in exactly the same way as you would lead anyone else regardless of age and experience, except you make one small change: you shift your mindset.
A lesson in leadership
Many moons ago, as I was just starting out in business, my consulting firm secured a government contract where I was required to manage a team of people much older than me and that had a lot more experience. Like Steve, I initially struggled to work with my team because, with my Sri Lankan cultural background, I was raised to believe that anyone older than me was never to be questioned because they knew much more than me. As a child, this made sense completely, but in the real world that logic is severely flawed.
In desperation, I sought advice from a senior colleague—let’s call him Peter—who had been in the department longer than anyone else and was very well respected. Peter took me out of the office and taught me a very powerful leadership lesson.
After hearing how I believed that no-one in the team respected me as a leader because of my age and lack of experience, he took a sip of his coffee and simply said to me, “AJ, we didn’t hire a kid. We hired an ICT office manager. Now, if you feel as though you cannot perform the duties under that position, then let us know and we’ll find someone else.”
His words hit me like a ton of bricks.
I realised I was acting like a kid and letting my insecurities get in the way of me performing the role that I had been hired to do. I had to change my mindset and act like the ICT office manager regardless of how I felt about it personally.
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