Leading is exciting and challenging, and the younger you are, the more difficult it may seem to lead those older than you.
How are you actually supposed to do that? Especially if you feel intimidated or are worried about your lack of experience compared to others.
Do you walk on eggshells and hope for the best? Do you lead with the authority you have been given, but risk alienating those who may perceive you to be too young or inexperienced?
These are all great questions and things I have wrestled with as a pastor and leader at New City Church. What follows are five things I have learned from leading those older than me:
1. Seek to learn, not teach
A big reason you may feel intimidated when leading those who are older than you is that it can feel strange telling and teaching someone older than you what to do, especially if they have a lot of experience in that particular area.
The good news is that leading doesn’t mean you need to know everything, or know more than everyone else, but simply that you are the one directing everyone towards a common goal.
So ask questions, seek to learn, get feedback (when appropriate) on certain ideas or decisions. The reality is, not everyone actually wants to be in charge. As an enneagram eight and someone who wants to be in control of everything, this makes no sense to me, but it is true!
If you demonstrate a desire to learn and grow in areas that those older than you have expertise, you’ll gain others’ trust. The more they trust you and your intentions, the more they will be willing to follow.
2. Don’t worry about your age as much as you do
I have found that very few people actually care about the age of their leaders if they trust you and feel like you genuinely care.
When we started New City Church, I was 26 years old. This means more people than not were actually older than I was. The first year and a half of our church, I was consistently worried about my age until I finally realized no one cared and no one even asked.
The younger you are, it is wise to be conscious and humble of your age, but don’t let it bother you nearly as much as it does. If you’re doing a good job, nobody cares.
3. Be as good as you can be at what you do
This doesn’t mean you have to be the best, but it does mean you have to try your best.
The best way to make people not care about your age is to be really good at what you do. Or at the very least, demonstrate a desire to grow, learn, and become as good as you can be.
The two largest factors that determine if those you lead will become frustrated with you? How you treat people and your desire to learn and grow.
Even if you are brand new to a leadership role, if those you lead know you care about them and see you are actively trying to learn and grow, you’ll have their respect.
The only way to be as good as you can be? You have to be intentional. If you coast or are not continuing to develop, that’s on you.
4. Ask for their advice, even if you go a different direction
People love to feel included, especially if they have wisdom or experience in an area where changes are being made. Nothing is more frustrating than seeing people make poor decisions when you know you could have helped them.
So ask those older than you what they think. It’s ok if you end up going in a different direction and they disagree with your decision. This is one of the tensions about leadership. But the fact that you asked shows you recognize and appreciate their experience.
Again, you don’t have to know everything. And in the areas where you need help, the wise thing to do is ask. When you do, and you make the right decision, people will trust you more and care about your age less.
5. Thank them for working with you
I believe one of the best things you can do when leading those older than you is simply to acknowledge the situation. Everyone already knows it, and it can help break the tension if there happens to be some.
From time to time, thank those older than you for their patience with you. Send an email, write a handwritten note, or simply tell them in person.
When you do this, you’ll often be reminded that A) people often forget about your age and B) people love to follow self-aware leaders. Your younger than they are, so name it.
Thank them for sticking with you as you learn the ropes, and tell them you are grateful to have them on the team. I have never had anything but positive reactions when I do this.
Don’t be afraid to lead, that’s what you are there for
The best advice I can give to young leaders is to be humbly confident in what you do. Understand you don’t know everything, but lead confidently when you make a decision.
If it happens to be a poor one, be quick to apologize and move on.
As long as people know you care about them and that you are doing your best to improve, they don’t care about your age.
The world needs good leaders. There’s no reason why you can’t be one of them.
Written by Dylan Dodson
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on dylandodson.com.
Featured Image by Kelly Sikkema