When I got my first full-time job as an English editor when I was 21, my team leader at the time was a 25-year old lady who loved boy bands, Japanese kawaii culture, and drawing. The team consisted of myself, two girls in their mid-twenties, three guys in their late twenties, a man in his forties who has been in the company for almost a decade, and a 50-year old man who had been working in the same level as me for years.
It was both fascinating and empowering to see my team leader handle us. I wondered why she, someone so young, was chosen to be leader, and it didn’t take long for me to find out. In a company that was always pressed for tight deadlines, she, despite her bubbly personality, knew when to put her foot down and get everyone to work at full speed. I noticed how she handled older and more experienced employees. I knew that age wasn’t always a factor for job positions, and experience only meant something when you got the skills out of it, and as my first ever supervisor, she unknowingly taught me a thing or two about managing and training employees regardless of age and experience. It’s lessons I took to heart once I took on leadership roles in jobs I took on in the future.
It seems like a daunting task to train, manage, or supervise a group of employees who are undoubtedly older or carry more experience than you do. It’s harder to imagine the dynamic, telling more experienced people what to do when it’s highly likely they already know. But in any business, it helps to hire the smartest and most skilled people you can. So, set aside your ego and insecurities and effectively manage your employees using these tactics.
Understand Your Own Strengths
There’s a reason you were hired to train or supervise these employees. Remember, in this day and age, how old you are has nothing to do with how well you do your job. At the same time, experience means nothing if you don’t have the skills and values to back it up.
Let’s say you’re the team leader and you have five years of experience, and you have one team member with eight years of experience in the same field. Understand that you have your own strengths; there’s a reason why you and your five years were chosen to be the supervisor, not them. Perhaps you had better leadership skills, and in your position, that accounts for so much more than those three additional years.
Focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses or your age. And then use your strengths to carry out your tasks with your teammates. Integrate all your strengths together, and you’ll be able to work more efficiently and effectively.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions
As a supervisor, leader, or trainer, you’re expected to answer all questions and put your team or group of employees at ease. When you’re surrounded by smarter, more experienced employees who ask questions, you may be tempted to avoid asking questions when they say something you understand, or you may make up an answer to a question you’re not entirely sure how to answer.
But just like your employees, if you never ask questions, you’ll never learn. Don’t think that asking questions equates to being ignorant, and feel free to ask for clarifications or for them to explain themselves.
Here’s a tip: it’s much better to ask questions now than to nod your head and go along with it only for them to realize later on that you don’t know what they’re saying. You just wasted your time and theirs, and they’ll have to explain what it means before going back to everything they just told you. No one has totally mastered every aspect of their field, so don’t try to pretend that you do.
Consider the Alternative
You might find it daunting or intimidating to be working with industry veterans on your team. But would you prefer working with the alternative? Try working with a team of fresh graduates and people who aren’t as knowledgeable or skilled, and it’s likely that you won’t get much done because you’re busy training them on the basics that experts already know in their sleep.
You might argue that it would be less intimidating to work with experienced employees, just make sure they’re not more experienced than you. But at this point, it’s clear that you’re not looking at the good of the team. Instead, you’re looking at your own ego. When you think about how well your team performs, you’ll want to get a team of the smartest people in the industry – even if their skills and experience exceed yours.
Don’t Try to Compete
Remember that you’re either their team leader or a trainer. Don’t turn it into an ego-fest and try to shake off your insecurities by silently competing with your employees. There will always be someone smarter or more experienced than you, and the sooner you stop competing with them even if there’s no competition (you’re both working for the same company, after all, and you are in a higher position) and accept that they can help you achieve a certain goal, the faster you can work together to finish your tasks and improve.
Don’t Let Age-Related Comments Affect Your Performance
If you’re young but skilled enough to land a managerial position, there may always be older, more tenured employees who will blink at the sight of a younger person giving them orders. Chances are, some of them won’t fail to voice their concerns about being led by someone who clearly hasn’t been in the industry for as long as they have.
Don’t let this faze you or let it affect your performance. You were hired for a reason, so find your self-confidence and perform your best without thinking about how that reflects on your age.
Training and supervising older, more experienced employees can be a challenge that may result in butting heads or feeling intimidated by their age or experience, but you shouldn’t let this affect how you perform. It’s not a competition, and you’ll find that by working together, your team of employees can effectively operate by using their shared knowledge and everything they can bring to the table, compared to a group of employees who have less total experience.