Guest Author: Debra Wright
It is not uncommon today to see younger and fresher talents assuming management positions and working alongside older and far more experienced colleagues. The number of executives holding high corporate ranks while still in their twenties and thirties has grown impressively over the years, considering that seniority was once a determining factor for promotion opportunities.
This shifting corporate culture can bring various challenges to organizations as younger executives may struggle with supervising employees who are ten or twenty years their senior, while older employees may feel discomfited reporting to younger bosses and taking directions from them. Nevertheless, there are strategies which can assist in bringing harmony to these relationships.
If you are an executive confronted with the same challenge, here are some thoughts to keep in mind to help you effectively manage older employees:
One way to establish better rapport with older employees is to develop an understanding of their needs, motivations, values, and work attitude. It is necessary for younger executives to avoid exhibiting biases towards and assumptions about older employees as these may hinder organizational growth and cause disruptive workplace conflicts. One way of gaining understanding is by conducting assessments or diagnostics. Learn more about how older workers perform and find out how your other colleagues perceive them. You may bring in external consultants to conduct these assessments to gain a more objective perspective. These assessments might be conducted as part of a team building process; older workers should not be singled out for assessment as this might also create concerns.
Tap their experience
Older employees who choose to remain in the workforce even when they’re approaching retirement age can provide younger leaders with valuable insight and information with their years of experience in the field. Tapping their expertise through executive mentoring, where an older colleague offers advice and guidance on specific situations, may help you shape better strategies and, at the same time, make them feel appreciated. Nevertheless, be clear to them that while you value their experience, you are still the decision maker and the leader of the team.
Supportively address their weaknesses
Younger and more tech-savvy executives must be willing to acknowledge the weaknesses of older workers, and technology may be one of them. While it may be a widespread belief that older employees resist learning new things and that it is difficult for them to compete in the digital era, there are actually a great number of workers who are eager to embrace new technologies. You can help older employees adapt and become more comfortable with technological changes that are useful to your industry by supporting them through tutorials, demonstrations and other training programs.
Work with a coach
Transitioning into a leadership role is challenging when you lack the experience, even more so when you’re overseeing employees who are far more knowledgeable than you. A professional coach can help design a corporate coaching program that caters to the unique needs of your organization. Through coaching, young executives can improve their leadership skills and develop flexible leadership styles that enable them to handle various workplace situations. Young professionals who are positioning themselves for management positions can also utilize other coaching services, such as interview coaching and career coaching, to better prepare themselves for future roles.
There are many approaches that young executives can use for leading older employees. Regardless of the strategies adopted, key to becoming an effective leader is to always treat employees with dignity and respect, and continually seek ways to enable all employees to perform to their potential.
Debra Wright Blogs about a plethora of topics including executive leadership development in leadership, career coaching and other fields. Wright considers the Rainbows Edge as one of the leaders in Leadership Development Program.