I was talking with a supervisor recently at one of our Make A Difference seminars. He said, "I struggle with leading people who are older or have more experience than I do. I have been told that, since I have this role, I should expect all of the members of my team to follow me. While I realize that is true, it is awkward for me as a young leader to 'give orders' to someone who has been here longer." This is a common dilemma that many young leaders face.
There is no "cookie cutter" generic answer for this issue. While each situation is unique, there are principles that apply to all young or even more experienced leaders. Each new leader must earn the right to lead his or her team. This means taking the time to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each team member. It means realizing that just because you have a title does not mean that you have leadership. It means admitting your areas of weakness and allowing members to lead in their areas of strength in ways that will benefit the team. It means realizing that "giving orders" may be necessary but should not be the common method of leading.
We must realize that we can show respect for experienced and older team members even as we lead. Listening, asking questions instead of giving demands, and having an attitude of humility instead of arrogance will go a long way toward building loyalty from your team. Motivating your team to execute and then holding them accountable is something that takes time and investment. You can’t control how a person will respond to you but you can control how you lead each person.
Earning the right to lead is not easy and requires the self-confidence not to become a dictator or absent leader. Chose to lead with respect and you will make a difference.
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