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Managing the Gap

Have you been in a board room, meeting, or office space where you look around and notice you are one of the youngest people in the room? Then you realize the ole grey hairs are staring back at you looking for answers or guidance. This can feel against the grain and a bit abnormal at first. How you handle these meetings or interactions is important in establishing your leadership style and qualities to make the age difference more useful than harmful.

Leadership doesn’t necessarily require years of experience or apprenticeship. You may find yourself in a lead-role based on a specific area of expertise or simply because you have a college degree. How you train, teach or guide your co-workers or clients to trust your abilities will prove essential to the success of any project. This takes practice but more importantly it requires a few characteristics and techniques that are common at all levels.

Respect. There should always be respect for those that have stomped the earth longer than you have. They may not have the expertise or be as technologically savvy, but chances are they are wiser than you are and they can still teach you a thing or two.

Assess their experiences. They’ve most likely experienced more in their lifetime which means they’ve seen more and been through more. That doesn’t necessarily mean they know more, but they can relate to an experience that shapes a decision resulting in a better position for a positive gain.

Speak with conviction. Confidence in your knowledge or assumptions holds value and helps the clients feel confident that you believe in what you are saying; this makes them more comfortable following your lead.

Hold them accountable. While it may be difficult to muster the confidence to discipline someone with more seniority than you or demand that they hold up their end of the bargain, it’s vital for all levels of leadership to establish a two-way street for accountability.

Avoid pulling rank. The easiest thing to do when someone doesn’t follow your lead is to put them in their place, however this is rarely the best way to handle older generations that resist your leadership. It may take time but the more confident you are, the more you communicate and ask for feedback, the more comfortable they will become with the situation.

Finding yourself in the position where you are entrusted to lead a group of people varying in age is more common now than it has ever been. In light of high-tech advances, where the younger generation has grown up understanding and creating advancements providing a fast track to lead-roles, managing older employees, co-workers or clients all starts with respect. Developing a leadership style centered on using your resources to your advantage, confidently and competently making decisions, and solidifying a two-way street of accountability will make the age gap an asset not a liability.


Erik Polumbo owns and operates Effective Project Management, Inc, where he assists clients with value-added project management. His firm assists Two Blue Aces with business development, operations management, and marketing. His firm manages the Five Guys in General blog.


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