Guest Post by Scott Savage

Ten years ago, I watched a film that I would one day live.

The film, In Good Company, starred Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid, and Scarlett Johansson. In Good Company tells the story of a middle-age advertising executive (Quaid) whose world is turned upside down when his company is bought out. He is replaced and subordinated under a new department head (Grace) who is half his age. Grace ultimately falls in love with Quaid’s daughter (Johansson), complicating their already rocky relationship.

The film follows a fairly formulaic path. It failed to win any major awards and did not come close to breaking $100 million at the box office. However, ten years later, I am still thinking about it because I’m living this film (minus dating Scarlett Johansson).

Many of us have stepped into roles where we are supervising and leading people who are older than us. It can be awkward to oversee people who could be our parents or grandparents.

How do we build trust and influence when working with and leading those who are older than us? Through a lot of failure and frustration, I have learned three lessons which could prove invaluable to you.

1) Humility disarms.

Millennials have a reputation for being overconfident, entitled, and cocky. Whether those stereotypes are fair and accurate, our generation often gets a cold shoulder because of the attitude older people expect from us. However, when we humble ourselves and approach others with a posture that considers others better than ourselves, walls begin to come down.

When we embrace an others-first mindset, we communicate that we are leaders worth following. We earn trust by communicating that we are focused on serving instead of being served.

2) Teachability opens the door to mutual respect.

A mentor of mine once told me “you can learn something from everyone.” A spirit of curiosity communicates respect to others. While we may have ideas about what needs to change for the future success of our organization, we must communicate an open posture that seeks to learn from anyone and everyone around us.

During my final semester of graduate school, I was required to form a personal “review board” within the organization I was working to provide feedback on my leadership. One of my “board members” pulled me aside for a private conversation. He graciously identified a weakness in my relational skills and leadership of adults who were older than me – I lacked teachability. He challenged me to contact 5 older men in our organization and buy them lunch. One of these men was in his 60s, the rest were in their 70s.

While none of these men became a formal mentor, the experience was powerful. I still remember at least one lesson from each conversation. Those meetings led to increased respect and trust within older population in our organization. While I did not completely agree with these men, I took a nugget of wisdom away from each conversation that helped me grow.

Cultivating a teachable spirit in our twenties and thirties enables us to glean from others’ experience. Our wisdom can surpass our experience because we’re mining their experience. Leaning into others with a teachable spirit communicates we believe their perspective and experience have value.

3) Honor those who have gone before you.

In a 2010 leadership talk at the Catalyst Conference, author Craig Groeschel challenged next-generation leaders to honor their elders. He said, “Because the younger generation is entitled to so much, they do not honor well.”

Honoring those who are older than you is difficult because we often confuse honor and respect. According to Craig, “Respect is earned, honor is given.” Many of our parents have done things that cost them respect in our eyes, but they are still our parents. Your supervisor may not seem like the most respectable person, but they hold a place in your life that deserves honor.

Honoring can be as simple as being unselfish. When I present to an audience that is dominated by an older population, I dress differently than if I was speaking to a group dominated by peers. I want to honor their tradition of dressing up. In leadership meetings, I look to spotlight older leaders in my organization who embody the kind of values I am working to introduce. It’s easy to praise another younger leader, but praising someone like me is expected. Honoring and praising my elders is unexpected and powerful.