Robert: How Can Young Leaders Manage Seniors?

Our colleague, Robert Schulz, a Manager at DONE!Berlin, has delved into this topic because he himself is in such a situation: as a young leader, he also manages senior employees on his team. Here, he discusses his experiences and offers tips.

October 26, 2023

It affects every business today: Millennials and Generation Z are gradually taking on leadership roles within companies. This is due, in part, to many baby boomers retiring, leading to the need for the reassignment of leadership positions. Furthermore, young individuals are often promoted because they bring potential, high digital competence, and a strong understanding of the modern workplace. Long-term work experience and specialised skills are no longer a guarantee for becoming a manager.

"The dynamics of leadership in such situations are often complex and can be challenging for both parties. Different work styles, communication methods, and values can lead to conflicts," Robert comments. "This is why many young, qualified leaders today are faced with the question: How do I lead my senior colleagues?"

Demonstrate An Inclusive Leadership Style

For Robert, young leaders should first establish a connection with their employees, build trust, maintain respectful and empathetic communication, and foster collaborative and appreciative teamwork to achieve common goals. It requires empathy, flexibility, and the ability to integrate the best of both generations to create a productive and harmonious work environment.

Robert's tips in more detail: Young leaders should initiate 1:1 with each individual employee right from the start. The idea is to show them on a frequent basis that you value their experience and their contributions to the company, and that you have no intention of challenging their role. On the contrary, you are there to actively encourage them to bring their expertise and experiences into the team.

Moreover, young leaders should demonstrate that they support the interests, further education, or careers of these senior team members. This not only shows the commitment to their growth but also helps bridge any skills or knowledge gaps that may exist. Build on shared views, goals, and visions.

Most important, demonstrate respect, diversity, and inclusivity in your leadership style every day. That also includes your communication because different generations communicate differently, especially in the workplace – senior workers tend to use more formal tones and language, while younger workers often speak more casually.  The speed of work might be different. Try to leave room for different approaches to the same end goal. As a leader, it’s important to take this into account when engaging with your intergenerational team.

Foster A Culture Of Mutual Collaboration

Help your team learn from one another. Encourage senior employees to mentor younger leaders, and vice versa. This way, senior employees not only feel valued by their superiors but also by the entire team, and younger team members benefit from their experiences. Furthermore, the younger generation ensures that senior employees don't fall behind in technology. The prerequisite for this is that everyone on the team is open to a mutual learning culture and sets aside their biases and stereotypical views.

In case there are age-related biases, address this problem and promote awareness and education about ageism and ensure that discriminatory behaviour is not tolerated. Make it clear that everyone is valued for their contributions, regardless of their age. Moreover, make it clear to the team that they will all benefit from generational diversity. Because the various generations with their diverse viewpoints will naturally contribute to more creativity and innovation, and easier achieve their goals. Ultimately, it's about leveraging the strengths of everyone to be successful as a team.

Finally, give your team credit for their ideas and successes, and provide them with opportunities to showcase their achievements in larger forums. These efforts show that you're a leader who is confident enough to share the spotlight and focus on supporting your team members.

“Managing employees who are older than you can be a challenging but rewarding experience”, concludes Robert. “By understanding and respecting the unique qualities of each generation, preventing conflicts from arising, fostering team cohesion and inclusive communication, you can build a harmonious, diverse team that thrives on the collective wisdom of its members.”

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