Hire the Younger or Older Project Manager? Does Age Matter?

A mentor once taught me we should never assume correlation between age, ability, and integrity. We might assume someone in their 50’s has ability.  Or someone with great ability has corresponding integrity. It might be easy to assume that someone in their 20’s does not have the necessary ability–and miss out on tapping into talent and opportunity that is left on the sidelines.

That said, there’s a quote attributed to Will Rogers (and many others) that says something along the lines of “Success comes from good judgment. Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment!” Ability can take time. I never knew more about parenting than when my wife and I didn’t have kids yet! When I walk onto a commercial flight, I often look into the cockpit to check out the pilot. Quite frankly, I’m looking for grey hair or no hair! I want someone who flew in Vietnam! My point: sometimes it takes years to truly develop ability.

So what if you’re “the youngster” and not getting the opportunity to lead the projects you desire? Obviously you can’t do much about your age, so focus on the other two components: ability and integrity.

On the Ability front, keep learning. Find people who are 5-10 years ahead of you and watch how they go about leading, influencing, and delivering. Get certified. Listen to podcasts and go to classes. Develop trusting relationships with people up, down, and across the organization. Learn the language of your business and industry, not just the technology. Your development and growth is your responsibility, not your manager’s.

On the Integrity front, make sure you’re not just talking a good game. Results matter. Do what you say you will do, which is how Kouzes and Posner define credibility in their book by the same title (for my interview with Jim Kouzes about their book Credibility, go tohttp://bit.ly/CredibilityPart1).

If you’re charged with leading a team with, um, more seasoned teammates, don’t see them as a threat. Tap into their experience. Don’t worry about having all the answers. Rather, focus on delivering value. Serve your team. Help make their problems go away. Be a human shield for them. There’s a reason why your company picked you so step up and lead. Your team can become loyal followers regardless of your age.

So, do you hire older or younger? My advice: don’t fret about age. Focus on ability and integrity. What level of ability is required for the role? How can you discover the person’s record of integrity, regardless of age.  This is where references and relationships come into play.

Just make sure you don’t fall into the trap of assuming there is correlation between age, ability, and integrity.

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