7 Ways to Deal with Old Leaders
Old leaders who ignore or belittle young leaders close the door on the future.
To young leaders:
Old foolish leaders are inconsistent.
- They despise your sense of entitlement, but they feel entitled.
- They speak bluntly, but expect you to speak kindly.
- They expect you to listen, but they don’t.
- They want respect, but look down on youth.
- Making the achievements of others look easy.
- Acting like you have something to prove. Defensiveness disguises fear and weakness.
- Needing to look smarter and trying to outdo.
- Looking down on the older generation.
7 ways to deal with old leaders:
- Honor what old leaders have built, even if you want to change it. They worked hard to build what you’re complaining about.
- Practice curiosity. Ask three questions before making one statement.
- Show gratitude, lots of it. Gratitude answers tendencies toward arrogance.
- Display humility, lots of it. People who’ve been around a long time expect respect.
- Work hard calmly. Frantic doesn’t earn respect. Calm your spirit.
- Act respectfully to everyone, especially people who irritate you.
- Honor others even as you disagree.
To old leaders:
Successful old leaders leverage the strength and develop the talent of young leaders.
- Expect them to do something about their complaints. Ask, “What are you going to do about that?”
- Ask them to ask questions. You believe they talk too much. Ask, “What question would you like to ask?”
- Send them to discuss their plans with others. You believe they don’t see the impact of disruption. Send them to other departments to discuss their plan.
- Throw gas on their frustrations. Don’t tell them to calm down. Fire them up and expect them to serve others.
Bonus: Let them fail and learn. Lift them when they fall. A good word from you goes a long way.
How might old leaders develop young leaders?
How might young leaders succeed with old leaders?
***The twitter counter on the sharing tool is broken. However, I’m told the tool still works.
Oh, I have been confronted to old leaders and it hasn’t been easy. The younger I was the more I wanted to show I had courage, and I could take initiatives, and they made me pay 🙂
Very helpful post, thank you!
A very helpful (Homerun) point in this context and so many others was: “Ask, ‘What questions would you like to ask?'”
Great comment about “Old” not necessarily being an age. Well said “pmaddams”!
Thanks Bob. If you begin asking, “What question would you like to ask,” you may see a surprised look on their face.
Great insight – I would like to add that “old” leaders are not necessarily old; they may just be following an “old” style or have an “old” approach. I have run into this with managers I have worked with, where they seem to envelop all of the old foolish inconsistencies that you list above, yet they are fairly young and still moving up – or so they hope. Perhaps I give too much credit to call these people leaders, but they are managers, directors, and administrators, not leaders.
Thanks pmaddams. It’s true. Old isn’t necessarily an age. One leadership failure is pressuring young leaders to act old.
I’m poking at generational tensions that center on age. It feels awkward to me, but I felt it important to bring up.
As always, thanks for joining in.
I agree with your arguments regarding the behaviors that leaders should aspire. However, I always cringe when the conversation calls out attributes that are irrelevant to the argument. In this case the use of ‘old’ and ‘young’ don’t add anything to your argument. In fact, these descriptors detract from and weaken your premise. Poor leadership happens in ‘old’ and ‘young’ leaders without discrimination. If you changed, for instance, your heading 7 ways to deal with old leaders to simply say 7 ways to deal with poor leaders would your argument improve. I think yes. I enjoy your posts and I enjoy your Twitter feed but in the future I would encourage you to not segment your thoughts on leadership in such a way that disparages an entire group in an unnecessary way.
Hi Chip. I’m thankful for your feedback.
The language makes me cringe a bit, too. However the entire post is about age. Poor leadership isn’t contingent upon age. So, to leave out the age issue is to miss the entire issue I’m raising. Generational tensions are worth discussing.
Love the idea of “work hard calmly”. Working frantically and loud makes others wish you would get knocked off your high horse. Calming the spirit will allow more of the true spirit to come through in the work… Thanks, Dan, this concept put words to how I feel about people I see working frantically. — Good Friday to you, Shane
Thanks Shane. It’s great to read about your take away. The idea that calming the spirit allows the true spirit to come through is fantastic. It hadn’t occurred to me. Beautiful.
I find this to be an extreme generalization of older leaders. As an older leader myself, I looked to the younger leaders as the future of our company / organization. I would consistently reach out to younger leaders because I believed that they possess new and fresh ideas. I believe that every high performance organization needs diversity and to respect all of its members views and ideas to thrive. I know that this doesn’t represent all older leaders but also believe we need to be careful with generalizations. Just one person’s opinion.
Thanks Donald. I’m glad you shared your opinion. You bring up an issue that often comes up when age is discussed.
You are right, this post, is filled with generalizations. I’ll leave it to the readers to determine how extreme. Everything I write is a generalization with limited application.
BTW. I put myself in the old bucket, even though I don’t feel old. 🙂 And, like you, I believe young leaders are the future of our organizations. They have transformed the organization I lead.
New to this web site / conversation.
Can’t agree more with most of the comments etc. There does seem to be an ‘air of entitlement’ being taught or allowed in the ‘younger’ generations, and there certainly does seem to be resentment from the ‘older’ generations or a felling that there is a lack of respect for what has been accomplished in the past.
We can’t sit on yesterdays accomplishments, but we do need to remember that the ‘old guard’ did get us to were we are now, so something must have been good.
New thoughts and new technologies can improve how, when and what we do in the future and the ‘new guard’ certainly has an advantage in knowledge on that.
Thanks Jim. I enjoy how your comment blends the advantages of bringing diverse generations together. Cheers
As new young leaders replace older leaders half their age, your insights are right on. The “Ask 3 questions before making statements” is great advice and disarms other leaders. Building on the frustrations of “younger” leaders probably lessens your frustrations also but it is done through others. Building through others for the future is a key concept!
Thanks McSteve. I’m glad to read your takeaways. The idea that asking questions lowers barriers is useful. I hadn’t thought of that. Of course, the spirit in which we ask questions does matter. Great add.
Enjoy the lists so much. So little listening occurs.
Have you read “Of Youth and Age”? It’s an essay on this very topic written by Sir Francis Bacon in the early 17th century. His wisdom still holds and I love puzzling this essay out with my 7th grade students. When they understand what he’s saying despite the complexity of the language, their eyes light up. It has much to say to anyone who wishes to lead as we transition from young leaders to “old” ones. I revisited it often when I taught high school students, too.
The key point:
“Young men, in the conduct and manage of actions, embrace more than they can hold; stir more than they can quiet; fly to the end, without consideration of the means and degrees; pursue some few principles which they have chanced upon absurdly; care not to innovate, which draws unknown inconveniences; use extreme remedies at first; and that which doubleth all errors, will not acknowledge or retract them; like an unready horse, that will neither stop nor turn. Men of age object too much, consult too long, adventure too little, repent too soon, and seldom drive business home to the full period, but content themselves with a mediocrity of success. Certainly it is good to compound employments of both; for that will be good for the present, because the virtues of either age may correct the defects of both…”
Thanks Jennifer. I’ve read the essay now! You’ve extended the conversation beautifully.
Wow, Jennifer, would I ever loved to be your student. I was thinking of Dan’s post insofar as the distinction between youth and our elders in very general terms: For all of us there are years that ask questions…and years that answer.
However, when I read your comments—and then clicked on your reference to Bacon’s essay Of Youth and Age—I was freaked out. First, I had to read it three times just to get a whiff of what Bacon was saying. Then, I came back to your extrapolation. Beautiful!
No pun intended, but the “age-old” question elders ask is, “Why does God waste youth on the young?
On the flip side, the young, up-and-coming ask, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk?”
Your summary of Bacon’s essay is correct, then: A combination of youth and elder is best— after youthful errors and madness have passed, and once the elder’s last actions are not equal to his first are exposed.
P.S….Jennifer, are you in an administrative position in the education field now?
I’m with you Books! Glad you chimed in.
I’ve always love Bacon’s essay and found myself move from youthful optimism to veteran pragmatism. My work in education leaves me wrangling with youth who sincerely believe they could single-handedly change the world if only adults would get out of the way. At the same time I work with veteran colleagues who fear change and cling to inertia. Francis Bacon keeps me honest. Right now my work is in the classroom but some day I might pursue a larger leadership role. I’m thrilled to know Bacon’s words have relevance for us today and glad you took a look.
All “leaders” are “leaders” no matter what their age is or experience! Some are as you portrayed blunt, gruff, rough on the edges, but still they are the leader. We all have to find our place with them,know when to enhance them or perhaps challenge them and know when to ride the train that they are running. They still deserve our respect since they are the leader no matter what we think. Rank has its privileges so it is portrayed to us, although in may forms.
Thanks Tim. “We still have to find our place with them.” KaPow!
As a younger leader in my field, I’d caution young leaders from reading this post as endorsing bad behaviours that often rightly characterize us. Even if older leaders also act entitled, don’t listen, etc., that doesn’t negate that these wrong behaviours do, in fact, too often characterize younger leaders, and that these behaviours are NOT ok. Beware reading this as though two wrongs somehow make right.
Thanks Jeromey. I’m glad you pointed this out. Best for the journey.
Great post. I’ve been a young leader and I have been and am, an old leader. My advice on the bonus- When letting someone fail, make sure you can also take steps to mitigate the fallout. Those steps have made good learning points in subordinates’ development.
Thanks Peter. I hear the voice of experience. Fail small. Fail fast. Fail cheap.
Thanks for this post. I’m 58 and don’t see myself as an old leader but I’m certainly at the cusp of a generational change and don’t ever want to be seen as “one of those guys.”
Thanks Mark. Me either. Best for the journey.
Maybe we need a definition of “entitlement.” Once, when you earned something, that was not considered entitlement. Once, long tenure (suffering?) itself was thought to have earned something.
Thanks Org. Good point. If it’s earned then it can’t be entitled. In the case of respect, it seems it’s earned every day.
Interesting study along these lines is the interaction between Montgomery and Eisenhower. Montgomery thought Americans untrained, unable to deal with authority, juvenile, and incompetent. From his perspective, he was correct. Specifically, Eisenhower had a folksy way about him and certainly was not trained in the social restraint of English upper crust. Eisenhower, however, was less restrained on the battlefield, and therefore more effective. He was however very restrained with Montgomery, who as his subordinate was disrespectful. Eisenhower’s patience and insistence, even with himself, even when he was beet red with anger, on coordinativeness, won the day — and the war.
Thanks again Org. Love the story and the illustration that “lack of restraint” and persistence win.
Leaders who have been around the block are likely to have found something that works along with a list of what doesn’t. If something has worked for a number of years, why change it? Inertia sets in, and they forget that the world continues to change. What has worked for this long may not continue on.
Then in comes a youngster without all the background knowledge, wide-eyed with ideas and creativity looking to make his own mark. Having grown up with technology and globalization as a reality, he sees the world completely differently. He already knows that change is the new normal and expects it, knows he has to be apart of it.
So they clash, while neither one of them is completely right nor wrong. To me, if every person were to just treat every other person with dignity and respect, many of these issues could be eliminated. But the wet nose will have to be patient until he has fully found his way in the environment.
Dan, I particularly like your piece about being ‘curious.’ My experience in coaching on both sides of the age issue is that the struggle comes when neither is ‘curious’ about the other person’s ideas or point of view. If I am curious I am more apt to ask question. Along side of curiosity is empathy. Whether you are ‘old’ or ‘young’ their are aspects of your experience that bear listening to and understanding. I remember role playing with a 30 year old supervisor who was struggling with a 55 year old member of her team. I suggested that I be her and she could be me. I started by making a simple statement, “You’ve been through an enormous amount of change in the past five years. That must have been very difficult. Tell me about how you dealt with it?” In that moment she looked at me and realized she had no idea about how this person felt, what was important to them, and what his experience was like that might be helpful. I later asked her how her ‘live’ conversation had gone and she said it was amazing. He turned out to be a wealth of information, and by changing her approach she unlocked the key to working together.
This understanding works in both directions, but often requires a willingness to make a change in our approach, whether young or old.
Jim – I completely agreed with you on curiosity and empathy. We need to be able to understand the perspectives of others and curiosity (really listening and asking open curious questions) enables us to better understand each other as you have so aptly described. I also agree with many of you who have taken the ageism issue out of this and consider it about quality of leadership although, based on feedback from some of my ‘older’ clients, they feel by telling the younger people what to do they are helping them avoid making the same mistakes they did. The intention may be kindness however the younger does not necessarily interpret it as thus.
Dan – thanks for yet another spot on conversation starter.
I saw a similar phenomenon for many years when I worked as a hospital nurse. New, enthusiastic young nurses (myself included) would come into the profession and run right up against the old guard (and they weren’t always “old”). Rather than supporting the new nurses, some of the older ones would literally delight in seeing them fail. Years ago, I jumped on the opportunity to be a preceptor to new nurses. I wanted them to feel valued right from the start, and also to be open to the possibility that we could learn from each other.
Great example, Cheryl. I am still young enough to see how it happens that the elders in positions of power and respect can invalidate the innovative suggestions of the younger members of a team, yet I am old enough to understand that not every idea coming from team members who are still fairly new to the game is innovative….there are still bad ideas and the hope is that with age comes wisdom to recognize bad ideas. Where experience is troublesome for anyone is in falling to routine or complacency that clouds judgement in deciding what is a bad idea versus what is simply out of one’s comfort zone.
Innovation hides among the reeds of discomfort and fear. 🙂
This is something I am really struggling with at the moment. The senior leadership say that they want to “change the culture” at our very old school traditional workplace. It is a culture that they helped to develop.
When we try something different, they say “You can’t do that because it doesn’t fit with our culture.”
Work hard calmly really resonates for me. I find sometimes the ‘tyranny of the urgent’ envelops us in a frenzied environment where we lack focused effort and work too hard at the wrong things. Whether an old or new leader, value your people and their time and energy. Allow time to think and encourage diligence, accountability, and open communication but also peace and respect.
Sounds so familiar
Your post is poignant and I’d like to see you write a post about what I have observed over and over in the past few years: young professionals aggressive hostility toward mature leaders and workers. I have been in corporate strategy meetings wherein young professionals who are being mentored by senior leaders (both in age and title) wherein the young professionals openly demean senior leaders. Of interest is that many of these young professionals are in groups that suffered blatant discrimination until many of the senior leaders who are sitting at the table stood up to create a better future wherein more and diverse points of view, knowledge, skills, and talents could come to and be heard at the decision-making table.
As has been reported over and over in several studies, found, ensuring there is a mix of genders, ages, professionals, and disciplines at the decision-making table makes for better decisions that are more readily accepted (and considered credible) as it is not one homogenous group from one or just a few disciplines making decisions that many times do not consider important factors that can greatly affect the decision’s outcome.
Yes, I (and I’m betting many others) would like to see you write about this topic. And, thank you for starting so many conversations!
Thank u it’s very interesting
Your picture for your article shows an old guy frowning. Many “youth” are mentored by dysfunctional “old” leaders. The result, you have fairly young leaders acting like “old leaders”. On the flip side, their are many middle aged or older that have been deep into their skill sets for many years and choose to become “young” leaders. They are not youthful in body but are youthful in mind.
A lousy old leader may have many of the attributes you stated in your article. What is not mentioned is how EGO both in young and old leaders WARPS their perception on how important they are and how they treat others. Wrestle that EGO DOWN! Keep it in check. This will be one key way in achieving a leadership that is positive and valuable to your organization.