How to manage a team older than you

When the team you manage is older than you, it can be easy to develop imposter-syndrome and feel like you aren’t as qualified as them. But, just because they have a few more years of knowledge on their side, this doesn’t mean you can’t be a successful leader

This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Ask a manager

Know that your employees will take their cues from you

If you seem hesitant, or appear to feel awkward about the age difference, people will notice it and it will make them feel awkward too. If you act like it’s a non-issue, it should quickly become a non-issue to them as well. After all, imagine if your own manager was younger than you and appeared hesitant or uncertain about her authority; you’d feel pretty weird about it too, right? Now imagine that they were, instead, matter-of-fact about it and simply moved forward and did their job as if ages were irrelevant – you’d be likely to adopt that attitude too.

Remember why you were hired

You were hired for the job because your employer thought you’d excel at it. Have the same faith in yourself that they have!

Realise that your age is probably a bigger deal for you than for your staff

Yes, it’s probable that they have noticed your age but, unless they’re very unusual, they’re not dwelling on it. If they’re good employees, they want to have a smooth relationship with you – because they want to be successful in their own roles. Support them in doing their jobs well, and they’re unlikely to mind how old you are.

Dress the part

Dressing as formally as is appropriate for your workplace can make a difference in how you carry yourself and in how you’re perceived. Make sure your clothes and your grooming are impeccably professional; now isn’t the time to push the boundaries of the organisation’s dress code.

Pay attention to the rest of your presentation too

Do you use language, mannerisms, or a tone of voice that unintentionally give off an ‘I’m young/ uncertain/inexperienced’ vibe? Or do you speak with confidence? Are you comfortable being resolute? Are you able to solicit other people’s input yet comfortable making a decision of your own at the end of that process? Do you know how to give feedback without sounding nervous or apologetic?

Treat your older and younger employees the same way

Don’t joke around with the younger staff members and then turn serious with the older ones, or otherwise treat them differently. If you’re warmer to people closer to your age, your staff will notice – and it will undermine their respect for you and their trust that you can manage them appropriately.

Don’t overcompensate in asserting your authority

Sometimes a manager who’s worried about being perceived as worthy of the role will lean too hard on their authority. Exercising authority just to prove that you have it actually undermines you. Truly secure managers ask for input and solicit perspectives other than their own – and this will do far more to establish your ease in your position than making a point of authority for authority’s sake. That said…

If you sense an employee is resistant to your authority, address this in the same way you would any other performance issue

Don’t excuse it on grounds of the age difference. For instance, you might say, ‘I’ve noticed you seem reluctant to take on assignments I give you. What’s going on?’ Or, ‘I appreciate hearing your input but, ultimately, I’d like you to tackle it this project in the way we talked about, and to give me the opportunity to weigh in before you make significant changes to plans we’ve finalised.’

Make sure you’re managing well

Don’t give people an excuse to dismiss your expertise. If your management skills are shaky or untested, learn all you can about how to delegate well, how to give feedback, how to set goals and hold people accountable to them, how to recognise and reward good performance and how to handle problems.

Last, fake it until it’s real

The reality is you might feel awkward about your age for a while – so, fake it! Imagine how you’d act if it you did feel confident. If it helps, try to picture a manager you’ve admired in the past, and act the way they acted! After a few months of this, it will probably become natural.

Age is just a number; embrace your role and don’t let the matter of age-differences change the way you act. You were chosen to be a leader, so don’t feel like an imposter just because you are younger than some of the people who you manage.

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