Leading someone with more years of experience than my age

It all started at my first job. I’ve been around 6 months in the company and was happy getting used to the ropes of my current job. In those 6 months, I quickly pushed to prod (without even knowing it) and was learning very fast. I still remember when my boss called me to his office: We are going to do some changes and you’ll lead this new 3 person team. I thought to myself: Cool, I’ve learned some books about leadership, this could be fun.

The tricky part was the members of the team. They were a couple of technicians who had more than ten years on the job and more than twenty years in the company ( I was twenty years old). One of them was even a team lead recently. I did not understand the mechanics of that re-org at the time and still don’t have all the information about what was happening. I wish I had some cool story about why I was chosen to lead the team, really don’t know.

It was not a walk in the park, things started to get ugly before they could get better. As expected they pushed back a lot, they did not like the change, me, or anything that was happening. It’s funny, looking back I think my ego should have been hurt based on all the times they tried to avoid working with me and change things. I guess I was so confused with everything that I had no time for that.

When we started to work together, one thing was clear: they were not in the mood to take orders from a kid. I was not in the mood to give orders to them. This particular situation helped me a lot and shaped the way I work ten years later.

Given that it was almost impossible to give orders and avoid starting a world war. I started listening, that’s what I did the most in the first weeks. I listened and asked questions. Not like interrogations, more like curious questions. I think the key to the questions what that I wanted to learn from them. I was not a trick, I was very interested in what they were doing.

I still remember some kind of pranks they pulled on me. They would tell me they had run out of a particular material they needed. I had made a lot of calls and research to try to find it for them, then they magically found some in the warehouse or the car they used. I did not know these were pranks, I learned later when they had another team lead (I laughed that time).

With some retrospective, I think these pranks were not just to pick on the new guy. I think they were testing me. They wanted to see what I did, would I forget about the problem, slack off, blame it on them, or take ownership and be part of the team. Most of the time I came with solutions and discussed alternatives with the team. Some weeks later I think they started to trust me.

There was a point where I started to notice that I could help with some things. Not so much in executing, but there were some things they needed help with. Mostly operational excellence. They were relieved to have someone handle that. Every week we were becoming a better team.

Patience was a foundation for this team. At least from my side. I did not rush things out (I was not even sure how to do that) and never try to impose my ideas or way of working. I trusted a lot the team and things started to look better.

Not everything was perfect. We had disagreements and sometimes we preferred different approaches. This is normal in all teams, the good part is that we started to have a process. We had a daily meeting, talked about what we needed to do that day and we talked briefly at the end of the day. Every side learned to cede sometimes and when months have passed we were playing by ear.

Even though we were a productive team and technically very respected, what I always treasure from these experiences is human relationships. I still have a great time whenever I talk to these two people and we have a blast remembering the good old days. Based on what they say, they learn a thing or two from me, but I learned a ton from them and that experience.

I am writing an ebook about how you can choose a problem to solve and make money. Please let me know any feedback on Twitter.

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