How To Lead People Older And Senior To You

Sometimes you find yourself in a rather difficult situation, where you have people older and more experienced than you, reporting to you.

Or perhaps you have been asked to lead a project and there are team members who are senior to you.

Maybe you feel awkward and intimidated.

How can you effectively lead and manage people who know more than you, or are senior to you?

Why should they take direction from you?

How can you tell them what to do?

What is leadership and management?

Well let’s consider what we are doing here. The definition of management is achieving things through other people.

There are many theories and models of leadership, and leadership styles, including John Adair’s Action Centred Leadership, which focuses on Achieving the Task, Developing the Team and Developing Individuals.

So your task here is three fold;-

  1. Achieve the task; -Ensure the team’s task, project or workload is completed on time, within budget. So you are managing the resources at your disposal.
  2. Develop the team-make sure the team work together to achieve the task. Establish performance standards, monitor performance, give feedback, facilitate communications, encourage the team to deliver objectives.

  3. Develop the people -assist and support individual team members, develop their skills, provide training if required, encourage them to reach their potential.

Think about their reasons
In the situation where you have older people as direct reports it is worth considering why that situation has arisen.

Perhaps there is a formal hierarchy, and they are not suitably qualified to move up to the position you hold. For example you are a qualified Solicitor, Accountant, Nurse, or Buyer, and this person is your secretary or assistant.

They will have come to terms with that long before you came on the scene-your job is not open to them.

Maybe they have chosen to stay in their position and not tried for promotion. Or perhaps they have caring responsibilities and value the fact that their job level does not require them to work late, take work home, work weekends, and travel.

Again, they have made a choice and they should have come to terms with that.

Get them on your team

If you can get them on your side, willing to work together with you and give you the benefit of their experience, then this can be a fantastic advantage for you. People will often be pleased to ask to help, and become invaluable if you involve them in plans and decision making.

So make it obvious that you are aware of their valuable skill and experience, you bring other skills and experience, and together you make a great team.

You will have to use your judgement about the line between welcoming their input and stamping your authority on the task and team.

What if they wanted your job?

The problematic situation arises when they have applied for the position that you hold and were unsuccessful. They may not be well disposed to you, and unwilling to cooperate fully with you.

In this case all your interpersonal skills will be called into play. You should behave professionally at all times, treat everyone with respect, and prove your ability to perform better than them.

After all you were selected because the management thought you were better than internal candidates. Now you need to demonstrate that.

The danger here is that a vindictive person may withhold information, or even provide misinformation. Consider carefully the facts they provide, and keep your wits about you!!

In all cases, concentrate on the three elements of your task, and behave in a professional way.

The best way to deflect any potential conflict is to lead the team to a great result!

Managing a project
In the same way, if you are called on to manage an interdepartmental project, all the points mentioned above are valid. There will be a reason why you have put in as team leader – perhaps the management want to test you, see how you perform.

Maybe the senior people are too busy on more critical tasks to oversee this project, and can only spare the time to contribute.

Regarding the principles of Action Centred Leadership – Achieving the Task, Developing the Team and Developing Individuals – you still need to ensure the task is achieved, but probably do not need to focus so much on developing individuals, focusing rather on developing the team to ensure the resources at your ds=disposal are used most effectively.

Management tools
Most companies have formal processes in place that serve to depersonalise matters of authority and discipline.

For example there should be a staff manual in every department that lays down the rules and regulations. You didn’t make them, your job is to implement them. So although you don’t want to be a “jobs worth”, sometimes you can use the manual to deflect and depersonalise difficult situations.

There should also be job specifications that clearly indicate who is responsible for what. These can be referred to if points need to be clarified and reinforced.

There should be a performance management process in place that offers an opportunity to discuss and evaluate performance in a professional, depersonalised manner.

So although these situations are a test of your mettle and interpersonal skills, they do not necessarily have to be difficult or produce conflict.

This is the stuff of management and leadership.
It is about having the vision, communicating it clearly to the team and showing leadership.

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