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Solution Saturday: Young Leader – Much Older Team

Dear Dan,

I have been reading your blog now for about 1 year. I’ve seen you address my question a few different times but I thought I would bring you directly into my situation.

I am a new leader (about 8 months) who is managing people much older than myself. The twist is that I used to be one of their peers.

How do I motivate/change behaviors that need changing without “selling out”. There are fundamental changes that my managers are requesting but I feel like I am just beating my head against a wall to get people to modify their behaviors.

I appreciate your insight.

Unhappy Head Banger

Dear Head Banger,

Thanks for reading Leadership Freak. Even though I’ve addressed this issue before, it’s different when you’re in the thick of it.

The first thing I feel is the tug-of-war between upper management’s requests and people on the floor. There is a temptation to make one group the good guys and the other bad guys.

Someone in your position might complain about upper-management. “Those people up there don’t understand the real world.” Or, you might grumble about team members. “Those people on the floor are ungrateful bellyachers.”

You lose when you back-stab one group to connect with another.

You come off as weak and ineffective when you back-stab one group to connect with another. You also validate the bad attitudes you’re working to overcome.

The second danger you face is sincere blind persistence. What do you know when you’re beating your head against the wall? Whatever you’re doing isn’t working.

Stop imagining that ineffective behaviors will magically start working if you just work harder. Say to yourself, “This isn’t working.”

Be persistent with goals. Adapt methods.

Reconnect with former peers. I bet you had strong relationships with some of the people on your team when you were their peer. It’s to your advantage that they are much older. Approach them as if they were your parents or grandparents.

  1. Honor their experience.
  2. Describe your goals.
  3. Seek and take their advice unless it causes damage.
  4. Let them know when you’re following their advice.

Talk about why it matters. Purpose fuels passion. What’s important about this work?

In order to see what matters, you have to get out of the weeds and see the big picture.

Begin small. Work with former peers who respond positively to your leadership. A small group of influential allies may begin turning the tide.

Win over unofficial leaders. Every group has people of influence in it. Do your best to get them on your team. The best way to get someone on your team is to get on theirs. How can you serve them? (Without complaining about upper-management.)

Be kind. Don’t be weak.

Keep upper-management in the loop.

  1. Let them know what you’re doing.
  2. Share success stories. “We have a long way to go, but I wanted you to know about…”
  3. Tell them your future plans.
  4. Seek advice.
  5. Disagree respectfully. Speak your mind in private.
  6. Grab the rope and pull, even if you disagreed in private.
  7. Express resolve.
  8. Avoid desperation.
  9. Make progress.
  10. Go back to #1 on this list.

Think inspiration, not motivation. How might you tap into your team’s inner motivations?

Seek many options from people outside your organization. Generate long lists of ideas that might move the agenda forward.

Don’t wait for magic solutions.

  1. Try something.
  2. Evaluate.
  3. Adapt.
  4. Try again.
  5. Stay positive. Express gratitude every chance you get.

You face an important opportunity.

Growing numbers of young people face the same challenges you face. Hang in there. Stay open. Practice optimistic transparency.

Best wishes,


What suggestions do you have for Unhappy Head Banger?

*I suspend my 300 word limit on Solution Saturday.


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