Lets face it, as a high achieving woman in engineering and technology, you will undoubtedly have the opportunity to lead men who are older than you and more experienced. I had my first leadership opportunity in my mid-twenties when I was asked to become a group lead for a group of 12 of Quality Engineers at my company. Accepting this role meant that I reported to the Engineering Manager and was responsible for the performance assessment and staffing of these engineers. In this group there were quite a few Quality Engineers who were older than me, including men with much more experience. I landed this role because I was outstanding in my previous role as a Quality Engineer and showed that I had the interpersonal skills to lead.
So what is the best way to lead those who are older and more experienced than you? Here are some leadership tactics that worked for me.
- First of all, you need to make sure you secured your leadership position because of the positive reputation you have built at your company. If that is the case, then you will already have a certain amount of respect by your peers, even if they have more experience than you.
- Just because you are leading someone doesn’t mean you know more than they do. It is important to help those you lead to feel valued and portray that you are willing to learn from them. They will reciprocate that back by being willing to learn from you as well. The worst thing you can do is come across as a know-it all.
- Communication, communication, communication! You can never have enough good communication in a leadership position in the workplace. When I say communicate, I mean listening more than speaking! Employees you are leading need to be heard. Ask them about their struggles and their solutions to solve them. Most of being a good leader is listening to others needs.
- Understand the personality types of those who are working for you. Some employees want to be left alone to get their work done, while others need a lot more engagement. Gage their communication style and adjust yours accordingly.
- The bottom line of exhibiting great leadership comes down to respect. If you respect that those you lead may be more experienced and have something of value you can learn from, they will respect you back as a leader. Of course you may always run into a “grumpy old man”, but even they can be won over with lots of kindness!
Being a woman leader isn’t about being tough or being a pushover. It is about respecting yourself enough to know you are qualified to lead and respecting those that you lead. What has worked for you in your leadership role?