Ask Lighthouse: Encouraging More Independent Teams and Gaining Respect Among More Experienced Colleagues

by Jason Evanish, CEO Get Lighthouse, Inc.

How do you gain respect as a manager among team members who are older than you? How can you get your people to stop asking you every little question and create more independent teams?

Welcome to the 5th edition of "Ask Lighthouse”, our weekly format that answers your questions about leadership. Each week, Jason Evanish, the CEO and founder of Lighthouse, and other leaders will share their advice for overcoming your biggest challenges based on their experience and lessons learned helping others.

The goal is to provide you with the nuance and detail that you can't find in our long-form posts that try to be more generally applicable. 

You can send in your questions for next week here: Submit Your Questions for Next Week Here

This Week's Ask Lighthouse: Gradually Fostering Independent Teams, Gaining the Respect of Older Team Members

Today's questions are focused on the following topics:

Here are ways you can address these challenges with links to further reading you can use to drill deeper.

Use TRM to create more independent teams

Getting your team to stop asking for approval for every little thing they do

Question #1: "How do I get my team to stop asking me every little question about their tasks? It's okay to ask for my approval or opinion once in a while, but it's gotten to a point where their productivity is dropping because of constantly checking in with me.”

If your team is coming to you with a lot of questions, that means they're not feeling comfortable with their tasks or independent enough to figure things out on their own. 

The best way to solve this is to help them build up their confidence and gradually teach them how to take more ownership of their work. You can do this using the concept of task relevant maturity described by Andy Grove: 

"How often you monitor should not be based on what you believe your subordinate can do in general, but on his experience with a specific task and his prior performance with it – his task relevant maturity…

As the subordinate's work improves over time, you should respond with a corresponding reduction in the intensity of the monitoring.”

Here's a table that can help you understand what Grove meant by this depending on the experience level of the team member for the task they're taking on:

TRM is fantastic for creating independent teams

If someone's totally unfamiliar with a task, assume you should be very hands-on with them in the beginning. At this stage, embrace and reward the fact that they have a ton of questions for you. 

Don't assume they can handle a new responsibility just because they're great at other tasks. It's precisely in that situation they may be afraid to let others know they need help or will have more questions than you expect, so you need to be there for them.

Then, as their Task Relevant Maturity grows, step back a little and give them more freedom to handle things the way they see fit. Ask them how they'd handle a situation and coach them on any changes instead of telling them what and how to do something in detail. This will help them calibrate and learn how to stand on their own with your support and guidance.

When they start getting really good at something, praise them and encourage them to work more independently. Ask them to lead and you listen and coach if needed only. 

At this point, you should start receiving fewer questions from them. That's because you'll be setting very little except for the outcome, leaving them to run their projects.

Task Relevant Maturity is a super important concept for any manager. It allows you to build up your team's confidence and gradually let them take the reins as you step back and monitor their progress.

You can check out these posts for more in-depth ways to apply Task Relevant Maturity and turn around unconfident team members:

building rapport will help you gain the respect of older team members

Earning the respect of older team members

Question #2: "How do I gain respect among my employees while being younger than some of them?”

If you want to earn the trust of your team - regardless of you or their age - building rapport with them should be your first step. Rapport is the foundation of any great relationship, as having something in common with another person instantly builds a connection. And even if you're not exactly like them, understanding what is important to someone regardless of what their passions are builds a powerful connection. 

Building rapport also makes those you lead willing to listen to what you have to say and makes them more loyal. As Dale Carnegie once wrote, "the only way to influence people is to talk in terms of what the other person wants.” And you won't know what that is unless you take the time to ask them. 

Research backs this up, too. Gallup has found one of the key differentiators between engaged teams and disengaged teams is whether their managers care about them as this chart so starkly shows:

more engagement means more respect from older team members

As you can see, if your team "Strongly Disagrees” about being able to come to you, there's little chance of them being engaged at work. The only way someone will feel like they can trust you is if there is rapport and trust in your relationship.

Use your 1:1s to build rapport.

You may have more in common with someone older than you think - but you have to ask. Many managers wonder when they have time for this...but chances are you already have this time on your calendar: do your best to uncover those things in your 1:1s. 

Be curious about your older team members' interests. Even if you don't share those interests, ask questions about them. Whether it's their hobby, their kids, or a team, note it and ask and you'll be far ahead even if you don't also have kids or love the same things.

Of course, figuring out good topics to talk about will take some time. You may have to try asking a few different things before you hit on something they're passionate and excited about. 

Luckily, there's quite topics you can try, which we've written a comprehensive list for you here:

The rapport you build by showing you care about them and care about what's important to them is the foundation of everything else you'll do and ask of your team. 

Leading by example and setting the bar high

Another important component of gaining the respect of your team members (including older ones) is being able to deliver results and lead by example. 

Ask yourself what you can do to exemplify and reinforce the behaviors you want to see on your team. If you say something is important, it's crucial you back that up with your actions. Once you set your standards, work hard to maintain and live them on your own. 

There's a reason one of the most resentful phrases in the workplace is, "do as I say, not as I do.” You need to set a good example to your team to have the respect of your team, regardless of age.  

In addition, remember: as a leader, you decide the floor of the quality you will accept by what you reject and give feedback on. You also decide what qualifies as great work by choosing things to praise.

The example you set dictates not only what standards your team will live up to, but also the amount of effort they'll put in and how much they'll respect you. 

If you set the bar high, follow through on your promises, and build rapport with everyone you lead, you'll be on a good path to becoming a leader anyone of any age can look up to.

You can learn more about the importance of leading by example here:

What are Your Biggest Leadership Challenges? Let us Know!

At Lighthouse, we always want to give you the most actionable ways to improve.

What are your biggest leadership challenges right now?  Let us know by submitting your question for next week here. 

We'll anonymize anything needed to respect your privacy, and you'll get an answer to your biggest challenge right now. 

Jason Evanish

Jason Evanish

As the founder and CEO of Get Lighthouse, Inc, Jason and the Lighthouse team have helped managers grow their leadership skills in dozens of countries around the world. They’ve worked with a variety of companies from non-profits to high growth startups, and government organizations to well known, publicly traded companies. Jason has also been featured in publications including NPR, the Wall Street Journal, and Fast Company.

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