Just how do you lead a team of people who are all much older than you?
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‘Maturity isn’t a product of growing older; it’s a product of growing wiser.’ I tend to agree with Ann Landers. I am the youngest on my desk, in my team and second youngest in my company. I am also the most senior.
As with most things, my age has its advantages and disadvantages; but in many ways it doesn’t even come into the conversation. As a 24-year old founder and MD, I’ve learnt the importance in leading the team by example rather than heritage. Here’s the advice I’d give to an aspiring younger leader:
Roll your sleeves up
The most important thing about our company is that everyone, whether they were born in the 90s or the 60s, is prepared to roll their sleeves up and join in. It’s an unwritten rule that everyone in our team can, and is prepared to, do every role and to a high standard. I can help with the data entry at busy times, I know the tea run off by heart and am equally happy leading the Group board meeting.
Understand that respect is earned
Whereas older leaders may command respect by virtue of their many years’ experience, I know that respect is earned. It’s also a mutual process. I lead the team but I also support them. There’s no ‘when I was your age’ as I probably haven’t been their age yet, but as Landers says, maturity doesn’t always come from years.
Instill a collective mentality
Ours is a pacy business so older or younger we have the collective mentality that we’re on the front line together. I’m open and honest and everyone is aware of the company’s commerciality. We celebrate wins together - both at the pub and also financially. The shared success reward structure is a fundamental part of Viga.
Develop your reputation as you progress
I don’t have a few decades’ worth of reputation behind me. I’d say as a younger leader there’s more on an emphasis on proving yourself day to day. The spotlight’s on you. But as someone who went straight into work at 18 rather than following friends into university, I am used to that mentality.
Being younger, I lead by example rather than heritage. It’s important to be honest with the senior team and not bluff your way through unfamiliar territory. I have the flexibility to take more risks and I’m not too young to realise that the biggest leaps forward come from making mistakes.
Don't be too proud
When you set yourself ambitious goals and you begin to achieve them, it’s more important than ever to stay grounded. Get good counsel - don’t be too proud to draw on the experience of those around you.
I’m inspired by young peers such as Steve Bartlett, founder and CEO of Social Chain, who is the same age as me. The average age of his company is just 21. But I’m equally inspired by Enzo Ferrari who retired from his incredible empire just shy of 80. You can’t possibly know everything at 24.
Realise that sometimes age does matter
Read your audience - sometimes having a young MD or CEO leading the meeting provides the perfect impetus. But occasionally a client expects to see an older statesman. I’m confident I can represent the company I founded to its best advantage and I’m keen to, but I’ve also learnt to swallow my pride every now and then.
Some establishments are more traditional and slow-moving and longer track records count more. Thankfully the world is changing but it hasn't changed yet. Never being too proud to give up the spotlight when in the business’ best interest is arguably why we are where we are.
It’s true; you’ll never get fired for buying IBM. But you’ll never change the world if you don’t take a risk or two.