4 best practices to help young leaders bridge the generation gap at work
With more and more large universities and high schools adding degrees in Hospitality to their course offerings, it's clear that the industry is gaining attention from millennials. (A millennial, commonly referred to as Generation Y, is anyone born between the 1980s and early 2000s.) The increase in the amount of students graduating with a bachelor's degree in Hospitality Management means the average age of the workforce is beginning to drop.
One of the largest issues facing these new leaders is learning how to lead a team of older and more experienced members. Speaking as a millennial who had to navigate his way through unfamiliar waters, I would like to lay a framework—for a young leader in any industry—for successfully building and leading a team of people who are, in some cases, twice your age.
1. Give respect
The worst mistake a young leader can make when leading team members who are their seniors—one that virtually guarantees your team will be more difficult to lead—is not giving them enough respect. By giving respect, I mean respecting their age, years of experience, and ideas. If you expect them to respect your position and you personally, you must make giving respect a top priority.
I was promoted to my first leadership position while I was still in college. Every person working for me was older than I was, and I had the least amount of experience. Once I became their leader, I quickly realized that the thing I could do to get them to perform at their best was to listen to them and give them as much respect as possible. I knew my position came with a certain amount of respect, but if I wanted to continue to progress through the industry, I needed to be known for being a leader who was respected because he respected his team first.
2. Leverage their experience
The number one advantage someone who is older than you has will most likely be the experience they have garnered over the years in the industry. Usually, with more experience comes a level of certainty in the work they are performing. I found that many of the team members that I began leading knew much more about the industry and property management systems than I did—however I was still promoted over them.
I had to leverage the experience they had and use it to help me through some tough situations. I was able to build a team that had years of experience and was willing to share what they had learned to help me become a better leader. My team began to trust me more, and in turn, I was able to get them to want to perform at a higher level. I saw it as a resource that many leaders were too prideful to tap into.
Once they realized that I respected them and appreciated the experience they had, they became willing to explain how they had dealt with various issues in the past. As a college student, I may have had "book knowledge" that they didn't, but I was certainly lacking in the on the job experience they possessed. Again, in order for me to get ahead and continue an upward trajectory in my career, I utilized the resources that were around me, which in this case happened to be leading a team of experienced individuals.
3. Be inclusive
Once you earn their respect and capitalize on their level of experience, you can begin to shift your attention to making your team members feel included. Since you are a new leader, you are still developing your leadership style and gaining on-the-job experience every day. I came to the realization that I should not be afraid to include my team in some of the decisions I was making and ideas I was considering.
Once I began including them in the decision-making process, I was able to get more buy-in from the team. I even found that they had some really great ideas. I saw that the generalized perception of younger leaders is that they are very prideful and arrogant to the point where they would frequently fail to include their team in large decisions that affect the way they perform their jobs. Many young leaders have the tendency to feel threatened by the experience and age of the older members of their team, when in fact, they should have confidence in their position and include the team in the process.
When I was able to get more buy in, my team rose to new levels, and our performance exceeded everyone's expectations. At one point, we were able to take the hotel to a #1 ranking in the brand for guest satisfaction, all with a key leader still in college!
4. Share your knowledge
The trend in the industry has been that many of the older workers never completed a 4-year bachelor's degree, as it was not required in the past. Many of the newer leaders in the industry are equipped with this degree and a good amount of book knowledge. The tendency of the younger workers is to feel like they have an advantage over the workers without a degree.
I realized that there was a tension here between the older and younger team members, and I was able to utilize my schooling to benefit my career path without making anyone who was less educated feel incompetent. Once I was able to earn the respect of my team and include them in some key decisions, I was comfortable enough with them to begin sharing some of the book knowledge I possessed. While they were teaching me the things they had learned while working in the industry, I in turn was able to teach them some of the knowledge they didn't have the time or opportunity to acquire.
The majority of the knowledge that I was able to impart related to some technological advancements made over the past few years. My older team members enjoyed learning how to fully utilize programs like Microsoft® Excel and Outlook to their advantage. If younger leaders take their time to build a solid rapport with their team, they should be able to impart the knowledge to the older generation without making them feel less valued.
The most successful young leaders will give respect to their teams, leverage their experience, include them in the decision-making process, and then share their knowledge. Following the framework laid out in this article is an excellent start to navigating through the difficult waters of leading a team of older, more experienced members.
Tommy Beyer, CHA is General Manager at the Hilton Garden Inn Savannah Airport, Savannah GA (www.savannahairport.hgi.com). Newport Hospitality Group (www.nhghotels.com) is a premier hotel management company dedicated to improving hotel performance through cost-effective operations, national marketing and purchasing programs, comprehensive training, and sales development at the local level.
Newport Hospitality Group
Phone: (912) 988-9303