How to Lead People Older Than You

How to Lead People Older Than You

Three tips for setting up a great relationship

As we prepare for the next semester of small groups, I’m meeting with all of our new leaders to set them up for success. I serve as a small-group pastor, and many leaders are my peers or in a life stage or two behind me, making them ideal candidates for discipleship throughout the semester.

There are several leaders, however, who are older than me, which can make me feel insecure. I have to remind myself that as their small-group director, I’m in a position to lead and care for them—even disciple them. This is where the insecurities creep in.

What if they don’t respect me? What if they don’t think I’m experienced enough to lead? What experience do I have that they don’t?! What if they refuse to listen to what I have to say? What if I don’t have the necessary experience to care for them?

Thoughts start running rampant if I’m not careful. To combat this, I remind myself of several truths:

  • I’m in a position to lead for a reason.
  • I have wisdom to offer.
  • They have experience from which I’d love to learn.
  • We’re all on the same team.

Once I’ve allowed these truths in, I’m reminded of another: You’ve done this before! Through trial, error, and godly feedback, I’ve discovered a few key practices for leading and caring for those who are older than me.

Admit What You Don’t Know

Prior to working on staff at a church, I worked for the Department of Defense and regularly briefed high-level officials. We were taught to “acknowledge what you know, what you don’t know, and what you think.” Taken from an adage of General Powell when he was Secretary of Defense, it’s a great rule of thumb to follow when working with people.

Essentially what this means is that you’re in a position to lead for a reason and have experience and knowledge to share, so do it! We gain others’ confidence when we offer our insights. You don’t know everything, however, so don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” Better yet, say “If you have an idea, I’d love to hear it!” We earn respect by being honest, humble, and open to accepting others’ ideas.

As for the last piece of Powell’s adage, when appropriate, share with others what you think. Opinions are helpful, and when reached through prayer, time in the Word, and godly counsel, they can be important to share—especially with people we’re coaching. It’s equally important, however, to acknowledge the difference between fact and opinion. We must have the maturity to admit when our thoughts are simply an opinion.

To continue developing in this area of leadership, I have asked a select number of trusted small-group leaders to be my “report team.” I regularly ask them the following questions:

  • What am I doing well?
  • What could I be doing better?
  • What am I not doing that I should be?

Many of those whom I’ve asked to provide these checks and balances are wiser, more experienced leaders who appreciate that I respect their insights and opinions. It’s a win-win.

As a leader, I want to position myself to learn from those who have experience in the areas I don’t. Further, when I know a leader has expertise in a particular area, I’m going to pick his or her brain to gain any knowledge I can! The lead pastor at my church regularly shares that when he was a young leader, he was a voracious reader, learning from the experience of others to make up for any lack of experience he had simply by virtue of age. I want to learn from his example.

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