Giving Respect & Gaining Trust: How Young Leaders Can Get Taken Seriously

Today’s post by Charlotte Walker* commences the first guest post in our Emerging Leaders series, which we’re introducing to both teach and learn from today’s up and coming leaders. Read, enjoy, and join the conversation!

Less than a year after joining my new employer, I was managing a profitable program and tasked with delegating part of my responsibilities to a new teammate. Her name was Laura, and she was quite a bit older than me.  I’d only spoken with her a few times, so I set up a time to meet with her and begin training.

After a few pleasantries, our meeting began with Laura asking, “I couldn’t help but notice how young you are. How old are you?”

A bit taken back, I said, “25.”

She replied, “Wow! I’m old enough to be your mother! And now you’re training me! Isn’t that something?”

I tried to make light of her remarks, saying, “Well, I was born 35, so that makes it a little more even.”

The situation was awkward, and Laura’s comments made me feel uncomfortable and incompetent. I felt like she was comparing me to the other 25-year-olds in her life, including her own son.

Overcoming the Age Factor

It was important to me that I get our relationship off to a good start, so during our first training session, I tried to do three things:

  1. Be respectful.
  2. Avoid making Laura feel patronized because she was being trained by someone much younger.
  3. Earn her trust and respect so that she would take my direction seriously.

I tackled No. 1 by doing what my momma taught me. I used my manners! I could tell she was very serious and very proper, so I reflected that same style. I wanted to make her comfortable and realize that I respected her as a person, no matter what her age, with the hope that she’d do the same.

Number two was a little tougher. My goal was to not make her to feel like I was talking down to her. No one wants to be talked down to by anyone, especially someone half their age. I made sure to be thorough and organized. She asked a lot of questions about technology that a younger person probably would have already known, but instead of getting frustrated, I took it as a sign that she was trying to learn.

Looking back, the third goal may have been a little selfish. She could have done the job without taking me seriously, but I needed her to trust me. I wanted her to trust that I knew what I was talking about and that I wasn’t there to patronize her. I wanted her to see that I was there to do a good job.  So, I talked to her about her experiences, and I then spoke a little about myself. I was trying to earn credibility in her eyes. Then I began giving direction, answering questions, and asking for her opinion. Another important thing I did was listen, which seemed to make her feel comfortable knowing that I cared about what she had to say.

This was my first experience in this sort of leadership situation, and overall I feel like I handled it pretty well. Several weeks later, Laura and I still have a good working relationship as we continue to work together on her new responsbilities.

So, what do you think?

Are there additional tips you would offer a young leader responsible for training or managing an older teammate? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Charlotte Walker is a twenty-something marketing manager working in investments. Her passion for leadership grows from her first-hand experiences in how “everything rises and falls on leadership.” Charlotte enjoys helping other individuals realize their full potential and accomplish more than they thought possible. After a hard day’s work, Charlotte trades her suit and heels for jeans and cowboy boots, preferring to spend most evenings working in the garden, feeding cows, fishing, and cooking.  

*By the way, Charlotte is a real leader, but Charlotte Walker isn’t her real name. In an effort to allow our featured emerging leaders to blog about their own perspectives, challenges, and lessons learned, the guest bloggers in our Emerging Leaders series will blog under aliases in an effort to allow them to be as transparent as possible in sharing their real-life experiences.

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  • Daniel McCarthy says:

    What a wonderful idea to allow emerging leaders to share their experiences. Charlotte’s situation is common and allowing her to share how generations are emerging in different leadership roles is great. I couldn’t help to think how John’s 360-Degree Leadership would fit very well here. She must allow for opportunities for Laura to lead UP as well as Charlotte leads down. Charlotte can follow Laura in some areas in order to lead in others, therefor everyone wins for the benefit of the company.

    • Charlotte Walker says:

      Great idea Daniel. I need to do better allowing her to lead up. The last couple of weeks we’ve had to talk priorities about what needs to get done, and setting deadlines for our own benefit so she gets stuff done. It’s definitely more challenging than I thought it was going to be. A VERY good learning experience! Thanks for the reply.

  • Very good tips. As someone young and passionate about leadership, I appreciate your innitiative on writing this series (mid 30s). I am about to enter in a situation like the one described in the post where I will be leading a teamwhere most folks are much older and have a lot more experience in our area than I do. One of my main goals is to make sure that they understand that their experience is key for achieving the goals of the team and the the main objectives of the organization that we represent, and that they are an important part of the it.
    One thing I am glad and proud of is that I don’t know it all, but I do know that I can accomplish more with others than by myself. That is also a great tip from the other contributor.

  • Dr. Catherine Rott says:

    This is fabulous! Will be passing on to my sons & daughter as excellent perspective! Thanks!

    • Charlotte Walker says:

      Dr. Rott:

      Thank you so much for your kind words. I hope that this post will give a positive influence to your kids!

  • Annie says:

    All great tips! I really enjoyed this post.

  • Anonymous says:

    What a great idea to hear from up and coming leaders!!! This is a whole new reason to follow Leadership With Sass.

    My tip would be for the younger leader not to act as a know it all. Mutual respect is the key.