How to Lead and Inspire Older Employees

FAN2038498It wasn’t always the case, but these days many business owners and CEOs are younger than the workforce they lead and manage. A “one-size-fits-all” leadership style is therefore likely to result in a troubled workplace environment since it fails to consider key differences in dealing with employees of the Baby Boomer generation or even with Gen-Xers.

But if you’re a young leader who truly wishes to lead and inspire your team, here are tips for bridging the generational gap and bringing out the best in your employees.

Acknowledge that differences exist.

There’s nothing to be gained by pretending a person in her twenties has the same outlook and skillset as another person in her forties or fifties. Start by recognising differences in perspectives so you can work toward coalescing different-aged employees into a cohesive team.

Don’t make assumptions.

Do you ever look at an older employee and automatically assume they’re “too old to change” or “can’t keep up with the times”? That’s prejudicial thinking and works against any leader hoping to motivate their workforce. Instead, consider the wealth of experience an older employee has and focus on his or her ability and willingness to learn new things.

Provide context for planned changes.

Yes, some older workers may resist a new company-wide initiative, if only because they’re wary of change in general. Often, this resistance stems from a lack of understanding about the “why” behind the new approach. Offering context helps answer questions and generates a fresh way of looking at a change that many older employees will embrace.

Take a flexible approach to communications.

Texting or email may be your preferred mode of expression, but you’ll have better luck reaching out in person with older staff who like face-to-face communications. Business author and speaker Ray Pelletier urges young CEOs and leaders who want to give feedback to employees to “get up from your desk and walk over to them to give it.” He adds: “The more human contact you give them, the more respect they’ll have for you.”

Don’t present yourself as “knowing it all.”

An older employee will naturally resent any young person, CEO or not, who gives off a know-it-all vibe. (Chances are, no employee of any age will warm to this leadership style.) Counter this impression by being both approachable and coachable. Take advantage of a seasoned employee’s perspective and ask questions aimed at getting beneath the surface of a workplace issue or challenge.

“Having members from different generations means more viewpoints and creativity—which gives your business an advantage—so use it,” says Nicole Laurrari, president of The EGC Group. “You can never over-communicate that everyone’s opinion and ideas count.”

You can build immense reservoirs of goodwill and trust with this approach. Employees will greatly appreciate that you value their hard-earned knowledge and will likely feel more motivated to please you.

Put them in charge of projects.

Laurrari also suggests giving a qualified older employee a leadership role in important projects. This person may not take the same approach as you would, but with their skills and experience, “they can bring viable solutions to the table that others members of the team may not have thought of.”

Invite an older employee to be a mentor.

Depending on the workplace environment, asking an older employee to mentor someone on the team might yield highly beneficial results.

You might also suggest they “present their expertise at lunch-and-learns and team meetings,” says HR professional Kazim Ladimeji. This sends the signal to younger employees that it’s worth their time to “approach more experienced workers for their insights and knowledge.”

Your chief objective as business owner and leader is to mould a team and forge strong connections between yourself and your employees. An open-minded, inclusive and sharing leadership style—aimed at everyone in the company, but especially older, wary employees—will pay off with a workforce that understands “we’re all in this together,” regardless of differences in age, perspective and experience.


Re-Engaging Your Customers

When you are working with a client on a long-term relationship and they are not as engaged as they might have been, here are some steps to take to ensure they re-engage.

• Arrange for a special discussion in a different venue than your normal meeting place.

• Go back to their vision of success and why they want it.

• Connect your activities to the desired head and heart outcomes.

• Revisit the gap between where they want to be and where they are now.

• Given all the activities that must take place, re-prioritise and or re-sequence the activities and get a new commitment to proceed.

• Re-establish an agreement as to what you and they must do, and how you will manage a degradation of commitment.


You Don’t Have a Website?

Your website is the face of your company. The importance of a good website can’t be overemphasised.

If you think a website is not important to your business, you haven’t thought it through. Potential employees, investors, suppliers, customers and other stakeholders will all research your website before they contact you. You may not know what opportunities you are missing if you don’t have a website


Planning to Exit Your Business?

We all will exit our business at some point. If you are intentional about getting your business ready for sale or succession, here are a few questions and a major activity for you.

Start by working towards taking off three consecutive weeks. This means zero activity with the business. No phone, email, nothing. In doing this, you will be able to see how well your team does without you.

• Can they run the business day today?

• How about long-term?

• Can they take the business to the next level? The last question is entirely different as many leadership teams can run the company operationally but may not have the vision and/or experience to grow the company.

Can you take off three weeks? If not, what do you need to do to get there?

The next steps will be to think in terms of a six-month time frame and that your business is in better shape when you return. This adds significant value to the business because we know that businesses which are not dependent on their owner trade for significantly higher multiples of earnings than businesses who are dependent on them.  Achieving the goal of a six-months absence takes significant planning and taking advice from an external perspective.



Let’s set aside our nostalgia for the good old days when we could assure our businesses would succeed with a little more hard work. Allow yourself to appreciate, as a memory, the days when your business was well served by your personal effort and use of your natural talent or tactically applied skill. Today matters are a little more complex.

We need to lead and manage our entrepreneurial businesses with a crisp and well-understood vision. We need to commit ourselves to be continuous students of the complicated skills required to manage a team of people working toward a common goal.

As our businesses grow, we need to reserve more time and energy for the leadership and managerial responsibilities mentioned above. We need to delegate.

Let’s define delegation first.

Delegation is when a leader assigns a personally held task, project or responsibility to someone else while maintaining accountability. For this to occur effectively, a leader must define the scope of the responsibility, discuss how this task relates to the larger picture of your business (if required) and state clearly what success looks like.

Effective delegation assigns a team member in your organisation to be the tactical implementer or the “doer.” Meanwhile, you—as the leader—become the manager of the processes and standards of your business. Eventually, as your business grows and this delegation process continues, you may find yourself managing managers. These managers, in turn, will delegate tasks to their immediate staff. One day you will more than likely find yourself beaming with quiet satisfaction at the well-oiled machine of your team working independently to implement your vision and performing peacefully within the structures of a consistent, fair and inspirational managerial process.

You might be asking yourself, “Is this really necessary to build a sustainable enterprise?” The simple answer is yes.

I don’t believe it is necessary to grow your business to the size where you have managers of managers. However, I do believe it is necessary to grow your business past the limitations of the founding talents on which the business was created.

Hopefully, each leader reading this article can think of someone in your organisation who is amazingly better than yourself at some task or skill that your business requires.

What is the prescription for delegation?

• Is your current and future-looking personal leadership for your company producing a sustainably successful business? Make sure your vision is consistently tested for accuracy versus the constant pressures of a changing marketplace.

• Is your value proposition still valid? If not, your team is counting on your leadership for some adaptation that will keep your company completely relevant to your marketplace.

• Define the standards and structures that will define your employees’ relationship to your company. Everyone who accepts leadership and direction from others will perform best when they know what we as a company are trying to accomplish and what my role is to the group.

• Build the strongest team possible. Hire talented people. Empower them to exercise their unique skills and talents within the constraints of the company’s communally understood goals.

• Watch your company’s delegation and accountability processes. In a growing company, just about everyone should be headed toward a slightly different job. The natural progression of delegation with accountability should best position everyone to contribute to their greatest potential. Please remember that as “doers” get assigned a blended managerial role or even a totally managerial role, they will more than likely need support. Superior “doers” do not necessarily morph into great managers without support. You will need to provide for their learning and transition.

• Require of yourself to be a “manager in training” forever. It is hard and complicated work. Be a role model of managerial excellence to your direct reports. They will make the connection to their own efforts.

• Delegate with accountability and the appropriate KPI’s  – never abandon. Communicate. Manage. Learn to manage even better. Enjoy the fruits of a sustainable and prosperous business.

One final point: I think the practice of quality delegation is way up there on the list of important markers of great business leadership. Making sure your vision is correct is the most important marker. There is always more work to be done than there are hours in the day. This truth is a constant.

A strong tradition of continuous delegation within our organisations is quite simply this: good for your business, good for the careers of your staff, good for you and your family life.

Lead On. Manage on.