One of the questions that came up during a class on ministry leadership concerned the issues that arise when a woman is given leadership responsibilities than include leading older men.  She wondered what to do if an older man would not accept her leadership, but instead would run it by the lead Pastor first rather than taking direction from her, even though she had authority to do so.  Here are some thoughts on younger leaders leading older people.

Remember that leading people older than you requires good listening skills, patience and the knowledge that you must learn how things have been done in the past before you can apply your new ideas. Build quality relationships, earn their trust and allow your leadership to rise organically. There is an old saying that “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” It sounds clichéd to say it, but that is really the secret to effective leadership of people who are older than you in years and experience.

Here are some thoughts about leading older people:

  • Recognize that there are differences: When a person is more than 10 years older, they likely have different needs and expectations from their leader and the organization.  The same is true leading people from the opposite sex. You should maximize your leadership by adapting your style to the person you are leading anyway, but this will be especially true when you lead someone who doesn’t always “need” your leadership. Watch and listen carefully.
  • Value their wisdom: Most likely, there will naturally be things the other person has experienced that you haven’t.  Don’t let that intimidate you.  Allow it to work for you by gleaning from that wisdom.
  • Respectfully stand your ground: If you have been given leadership responsibilities, then do your job. You are expected to lead, but as you should with any person you lead, be respectful.
  • Be clear on expectations: They may need a little more clarity on your expectations before they are ready to act. Be kind. Be respectful always, but be direct. Shoot straight with them. Stand firm when needed.
  • Focus on your shared mission and vision. Instead of getting lost in the idea that you’re leading someone older, focus on the mission and vision you have in common and how best to work together to accomplish what you’re called to do. Who are we? Why do we do what we do?  What are our goals? Where are we headed? (Inspire a shared vision. The Leadership Challenge)
  • Focus on what’s true and unique about them, and about you. Act like someone they should respect and follow, and they probably will!