Leading people who are different from you!

Leading people who are different from you!

I started my professional career qualifying and working as a nurse.  I can’t remember that the differences between the people were an issue in that world.  It was later on, when I moved to work in a government department, that I had problems.  Or, rather, one particular problem!

I had a very junior member of the team who was very much older than me.  She found it difficult to accept my right to lead and manage her; she preferred working for men.  Eventually, and with a lot of work by both of us, we found a way of working together, but it was never easy.  Over the years, I learned a few lessons and got better at working with people who were very different, including of different ages.  Here, are some of the things I learned.

Recognize that people are different. People are different for all kinds of reasons; age, sex or ethnic background, being just the start.  But don’t assume that just because they are old/young, male/female, black/white etc that they will be different.  Get to know your people and find out exactly what it is they need from you to succeed.

Recognize and give credit for wisdom.  Different people bring different learning and experience.  But most will bring something – for example, school-leavers may well be able to tell you about new trends.  Find out what each person brings to the party and be grateful for it.

Stand your ground, but do it with respect for difference.  If you are the leader and accountable for results, do your job. People will be looking for you to lead and they can, quite rightfully, feel resentful if you leave them lost and without leadership.  But lead with respect for all.

Be ready to learn from them. Be honest when you don’t know how to do something.  If someone does have the answer, be humble enough to let them show you. It’s okay that you have some things to learn. We all do! You will be respected for your honesty.

Don’t avoid issues or fail to handle conflict. Don’t be tempted to make  excuses for not knowing something, pretend you have more experience than members of your team or duck issues that arise between team members.  Those who have the experience will see through that type behavior, you will lose their respect and unresolved conflicts fester.

Be honest with people. Most people in the world value honesty expressed with courtesy, regardless of their age, sex etc.  Treat them as you would like to be treated.

Practice patience.  People may be more or less culturally, technologically, or trend savvy.  That doesn’t mean they will not be valuable.  Take time to find out about them, then train where necessary. Different kinds of people may need different forms of communication or you may need to explain something in a different context.

Above all, enjoy the experience that working in a team with people from a mix of backgrounds brings.

Wendy Mason is a career coach.  She helps people reach their goals and aspirations, without sacrificing their home and personal life.  Before working as a coach, Wendy had a long career in both the public and private sectors in general management and consultancy as well as spells in HR.  She now divides her time between coaching and writing. You can contact Wendy at wendymason@wisewolfcoaching.com and find out more athttp://wisewolfcoaching.com

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