5 Steps To Successfully Lead Older Team Members

Age-diverse teams have countless advantages and, of course, some challenges. How to get off to a good start as a first-time leader, even with employees who are much older than you? This is often a topic in my coaching practice - especially for those coachees who are taking on their first leadership role in a corporate environment. The following five tips will help you to gain the respect and willingness to cooperate with your older employees.

1. Start with an introduction by your own manager

What will your first day as leader of the new team look like? Discuss this with your own manager beforehand and ask them to formally introduce you to the team. From a psychological point of view, it will feel different for the team if you are introduced by your manager, two hierarchical levels above the team. This will give you greater branding as a leader right from the start, especially if your manager mentions why you are the most suitable person for the job.

2. Be open about the fact that you are younger than your team members

In your introductory speech, I recommend that you proactively address the obvious, the age difference and the shorter professional experience. What skills do you bring to the team from your younger perspective that complement the existing expertise in the team? What are you looking forward to? What would you like to learn from the older team members? Feel free to share personal details in your opening speech – for example, if you have small children, the older team members may be able to relate to what it was like when their children were small.

3. Get to know your team members personally and understand their fears

As in any new leadership role, it is important to invest the time, in the beginning, to get to know each individual in the team well and thereby build understanding and trust. In the get-to-know 1:1 conversations, you can also raise the issue of age difference again and ask what thoughts or perhaps even fears there are on the part of the employees. This could be, for example, the fear that young leaders will only stay in the team for a short time as a “career jump” and that the team will have to get used to yet another new leader in the near future. Take their fears seriously and be open about your intentions regarding the leadership role.

4. Value experience

Through the 1:1 conversations, you will certainly also find out who in the team has which experience. Here it is essential to value this experience! It is important that this is done in a way that makes the staff feel valued and that differs from person to person. For some in your team, they may feel valued when their expertise is taken into account for decisions where they are real experts; others may feel valued when you actively listen to them over lunch about how topic X has been developed in the team over the last few years; and for others, that you let them shine with their expertise, e.g. in presentations to other teams.

5. Informal leaders in the team

As you get to know the team better, you will certainly get a sense of which “informal leaders” there are in the team, thus people who are well trusted by others. Learn how to rely on your older team members and ask them for advice in situations where you feel that your age or your lack of experience is an issue. 

Oftentimes I experience that the age difference between you and the older team members is only an issue at the very beginning and once the new team gets to know you and your skills better, it is no longer relevant. These five tips will certainly make it easier for you to gain the acceptance and trust of your new employees – regardless of their age!

Would you like to feel even stronger supported in your first leadership role? Check out our free video tutorial “Essentials for first-time leader” and a free checklist for the first 100 days.

Katrin also offers 1:1 coaching for first-time leaders and her Leadership Foundation Programme for a cohort of 6 first-time leaders.

photo by Lucie Greiner