Question: I have just taken on my first senior management role, after moving to another engineering firm. I am really enjoying the role. However, I’m in my 30’s and a lot of the staff that I manage are older and have been with the company for longer than I have. Some of these staff members don’t always follow my instructions. What is the best way to earn the respect of older staff than me?
Answer: This is an all-too-frequent issue that can arise when you join a new team where the members are older than the manager. But it also commonly occurs where a team member is promoted within their team to team leader.
The key to becoming a successful leader is gaining trust and ensuring that you develop a leadership style that matches both you and your team.
But the reality is that no one size fits all in these cases.
The most common mistake someone can make when taking on a leadership role is trying to make too large an impact in too short a space of time. While this can bear some immediate results, these can be short-term gains and result in longer-term pain of disengaged employees and in turn reduced productivity.
While there is no magic solution to change things overnight, there are some steps, below, which you can take to gain trust and buy-in from your team.
But, don’t forget that it is important you start with your end goal in mind. You need to be clear and concise as to what you want your team to achieve, implement processes to facilitate this and measure what has been achieved.
1. Engagement: The key to success is a) to recognise the individuality of each team member and b) ensure that each person understands clearly what the team’s goals are. It is critical to engage with and listen to employees to understand their challenges; recognise their individual, and team achievements and create a sense of belonging.
In doing so you will build trust, which is the glue that keeps a team together as well as developing mutual respect.
2 One-to-one meetings: These are an opportunity to learn about individual employees and build rapport with them. The most important thing is to listen carefully to what they have to say. There is a saying that: “The easiest way to look like you are listening is by actually listening… ”
Find out what motivates them, understand their goals and develop a plan towards achieving these. Invite them to share what they feel is working or not working. It’s equally important to acknowledge their strengths and any areas for development or upskilling.
Following this, discuss a plan on how you can use their strengths and develop their weaknesses.
3 Team meetings: When it comes to raising any issues within the team, it’s important to do this in a group session while maintaining control and ownership of the meeting. Together, identify the barriers within their environment that are preventing them from being more successful.
Have an open discussion on how you, as a team, can remove these barriers to success and make the business more successful.
Create a plan on how to achieve the goals that the team has identified and ensured those who are stepping up to take ownership are allowed to do so. Generally, the plan and the goals will be similar across a business, but the key to success is ensuring the team feels that it has been developed around them and the key successes will be down to the team and not personal performance.
It can sometimes be beneficial to allow the team to present their findings to senior management directly, enabling the team to feel they have a voice at the table. But make sure that there is follow up in place.
In summary, the key to any successful leader is the engagement of their staff: by ensuring the team has the opportunity to input, and belief that the success of a team is based on the sum of all parts. Earning the respect of older staff should not be something you are fixated on, but earning the respect of the staff as a whole.
That is when you become a successful leader and not a boss. Don’t rush it, engagement is key, keep control and start with your end goal in sight.
Mid-West regional manager
Collins McNicholas Recruitment and HR Services Group
This article was originally published in the business section of The Sunday Independent on Sunday, February 11th, 2018, and can be viewed here.