5 Ways To Be A Trusted Mentor To People Who Are Older Than You

The workforce today has four generations of workers so we all must be able to interact with people younger and older than us.

As more and more younger people enter the workforce and with changes in technology happening at such a rapid rate, the chances are high that they will be leading or managing people older than them at some point in their working lives.

With the generational difference, it can be challenging for someone to be managed or mentored by someone younger than them. Likewise, it can also be challenging for a person to mentor someone older than them.

The challenge a younger person faces if they want to be a trusted mentor to someone older than them, is that it takes time to build trust. If they don’t do things right initially, it can lead to:

  • An unhealthy or unworkable relationship.
  • High levels of stress for all involved.
  • Delay or failure to achieve objectives in a timely manner.
  • Low morale if it involves working within a team.
  • Declining levels of motivation to take action.

It is really important to have a strong foundation of trust in order for a mentoring relationship to work well between two people from different generations.

In my previous career in manufacturing management, when I was promoted into the role of plant manager, suddenly my peers were now reporting to me. About 90% of my direct reports were older than me, which I found challenging and confronting initially.

During the first few months, which was probably the most important critical time for my success in that role, I did not receive any formal training on how to manage people who were older than me. It should not come as a surprise that I struggled initially. I led by my title rather than focus on building strong relationships with my direct reports. That approach didn’t work too well for me.

Although I managed to meet business objectives, it was through a lot of effort and struggle, sometimes at the expense of my physical well-being. I was able to turn things around by taking on a more collaborative approach with my direct reports and involved them in decision-making processes.

Thankfully, when I left the company, the site I had been managing achieved its best results ever in terms of employee safety, customer satisfaction and profitability. A lot of it came down to how everyone worked together and having a two-way feedback system between line managers and direct reports.

Mentoring older people is quite similar. Here are five ways to become a trusted mentor to people who are older than us so that we can have a harmonious relationship that is focused on achieving mutually beneficial outcomes.

  1. Get to know them on a personal level. A big reason why a person doesn’t trust another person is because they don’t know them well or on a personal level. Naturally trust is built over a period of time, which can be a benefit as it gives us more time to get to know the person we want to mentor. Trust is formed after we know and like another person.
  2. Acknowledge their experiences. As people older than us have a lot more life experience and wisdom, we should look for alignment in what they have done previously and what they would like to do in the present moment or in the future. Sometimes all it takes to get someone onboard is to show empathy and honour them for what they have done in life.
  3. Listen more than you speak. Larry King once said, “I never learned anything when I was speaking.” It is important to be a good listener if we want to be a good mentor. The better a listener we become, the better we will be able to pick up subtle clues and direct conversations to meet specific outcomes.
  4. Own up to your mistakes. A very quick way to lose trust with someone is to try and cover up our mistakes or pass blame onto someone else. Taking personal ownership when things have not gone well or when mistakes have been made, will strengthen a relationship over the long run.
  5. Share how you are feeling. Sometimes it is okay to admit we are uncomfortable or even intimidated by an older person, but the key is to be able to turn it around by asking them to help us through the process. We will find, not only will they appreciate our honesty, they will go out of their way to make the relationship work.

Being a mentor to anyone should always be regarded as a privilege and something not to be taken lightly. The ideas presented here apply to people both younger or older than us. If we have mindset that we have the ability to serve an older person well, we will quickly become a trusted mentor to them, and the good thing is they can also become a mentor to us as well.

Action Step: Consider becoming a mentor to someone older than you, if you’re in a position to do so. Apply the ideas listed above as you start your mentoring relationship.

Question: What is another way we can become a trusted mentor to someone older than us?

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