While the workforce ages, increasingly young and accomplished employees are rising to managerial roles, creating a new dynamic between experienced workers who now answer to managers many years their junior.
Being a young manager requires navigating these potentially tricky relationships with older team members, who may see their manager’s youth as both an asset, bringing a new perspective to the team, and an affront.
Each young manager will have their own unique workplace to handle, each with their own particular rewards and hurdles. However, below is some general guidance for young leaders managing older teams.
Acknowledge the age gap: Explicitly acknowledging the difference in ages will help dissipate any tension borne from tiptoeing around the fact that you are much younger than your team members. It can often be tempting to avoid mentioning uncomfortable topics – the rationale being if it is out of sight it is out of mind. But in reality, lack of acknowledgment can draw more attention to an issue than it might get if simply stated upfront. Briefly acknowledge the gap in age early on and tell those who have issues or concerns to raise them with you directly.
Ask for help: There will be situations where someone with greater experience will have the tools that you may lack to deal with a problem. Acknowledge this to your team and, most importantly, acknowledge it to yourself. Don’t withhold from asking for help for fear that it will diminish your authority with your team – authority is more readily eroded by allowing your pride to get in the way of asking for help.
Ask questions and listen: Make the most of the experience your other team members have. On occasion, even if you’ve already formed a view on an issue, ask your team members for their opinion and really listen to the answers. If they have come to a different conclusion than you have do not dismiss it. Instead, respect their role and the knowledge they’ve gained in the workforce and consider why you have come to different results and if there could be something that you are missing. As well as broadening your knowledge, this will help your team members feel appreciated and that their experience has real value to the team.
Value experience and established procedures: Often new managers are put in the role, at least in part, to shake up the established system. As younger members of the workforce, with new ideas and perspectives, it is hoped they can challenge entrenched practices. And this is undoubtedly an important part of any manager’s role. However, be careful to not throw out practices and procedures merely because they are established – they may in fact be established because they really work. Rather than taking a blanket approach to entrenched behaviour evaluate it on a case by case basis. This will also help keep team members who may be resistant to change on side.
Don’t sell yourself short: While it’s important to respect and value your co-workers who have more experience than you, don’t forget that you have been made a manager because you demonstrated that you could handle it. There is a middle ground between constant deference to others and arrogant self-assurance and all good managers need to find that balance.
Demand more of yourself: Although self-confidence is crucial to good management, don’t let it get in the way of improving yourself. There is always room to grow, even for natural and assured leaders. Take advantage of the flexibility and opportunities for growth being a young manager affords you and don’t get stuck in your ways. Mentoring, wider-reading on leadership and extra training are some of the ways to actively invest in your development as a manager.