Hi there. Russell Stratton, Leadership Champion of Bluegem Learning. I work with organizations just like yours to help transform average bosses into exceptional leaders. This helps drive individual and team performance within your organization.
One of the conversations I was having recently was with a group of young managers. These were all new graduates, fresh out of University, very keen, very able, and they were moving into their new organization in their first managerial job. One of the challenges they were talking about is: How am I going to lead and manage people that are often a lot older than me and how do I avoid some of the pitfalls?
One of the participants shared a story with the group of what happened to them in the first couple of months in their job, and I’ll share this with you. So they were working for a construction company. They were just out of University, qualified as an engineer, had some really great ideas, but when they were managing their team of veteran employees, had been there for many years, very experienced in the work they were doing.
The individual concerned came in and he sort of announced “This is going to be the new way we’re going to do things”, and I’ve got an idea for this, and for this and for this, and we’re gonna do it this way, and that’s the old way of doing things and this is the new way, and had given this big sort of speech about how things were gonna change now he was the leader of the team.
He looked around the room at his team of veteran employees. Silence. There wasn’t a comment; there wasn’t a question. Nothing. He sort of dismissed the meeting and everybody filed out. What he found over the sort of coming weeks is that they were just carrying on doing what they were doing before. He came in with some ideas of “Why aren’t you doing it like this?” and “We can do this.” And they would just sort of shake their head and look at him and sort of carry on, walk away and leave him feeling rather bemused.
What he sort of found over the coming next few days into the second week in the job is people really weren’t taking any notice of what he was saying or doing. And hence he came to the event with me and was saying: “What do I do about this?” One of the things he said is or one of the problems is, is you’ve gone in there with these great new ideas and sort of imposed them on everybody else. You’ve tried to be the “Boss” when what we really need you to be was a “Leader”.
How do you think that feels if somebody’s been doing the job for 15 years very successfully and an individual comes in straight out of University and tries to tell him what they already know. I asked him: “Did you involve the people in the project briefing?” … What you were going to be doing? “No. I just sort of told them,” he said. I said: “Did you seem to guide their ideas from their experience?” “No. I just told them based on a case study that I’d done at University.”
This sort of dawned on him at that point that really it was no wonder that they didn’t want to listen to you, you know? This rookie leader that came in with all these great ideas, when actually, most of these solutions were sitting there in the room.
What was most interesting is what he did next. He went away from the session that I ran. He went back to his team and he was honest with them. He got everybody together. He took them out for breakfast and he just put his hands up. He said: “Hey, I think I got off on the wrong foot with everybody.” I made some assumptions I shouldn’t have done. I was perhaps a little arrogant. Bit too keen.
That little bit of humility there resonated with people. And then what he did is he outlined the project again and asked the team: “What are you thoughts on how we take this forward?” And interestingly, over the course of the breakfast and coffee, what he ended up with was a number of ideas of how to take it forward based on what had worked in the past. He was able to put a couple of thoughts that he had there and as a team they agreed the way forward under his leadership.
Now having met him three months later, what he was saying is the atmosphere was a lot better. He’d actually gone and found that they were listening to what he was saying because he was listening to them. They were getting involved with the project because he let them get involved, and he had ceased been trying to be the Boss, and instead had looked to become a leader.
So, if you’re a new manager out there and you’re thinking about how do I approach my team, particularly if they’re older than me, you could be advised to sort of follow his lead from what he did to get things moving.
So, what do you think about what I’ve just said? Do you agree? Disagree? Let me know. If you’re interested in some of the work that I do, then contact me at bluegemlearning.com