4 challenges of being a young boss
Relations between managers in their 20s and 30s and older team members can be particularly tricky, as different attitudes and life experiences may keep them from seeing eye to eye. Don’t conclude, however, that problems are inevitable. Establish an atmosphere of harmony and mutual respect by taking the lead in dealing with these potential hot-button issues:
The pecking order at many businesses has changed dramatically since the days when some employees were first hired—and this fact does not sit well with everyone.
“In the past, age and rank correlated,” says Claire Raines, co-author of Generations at Work: Managing the Clash of Boomers, Gen Xers, and Gen Yers in the Workplace. “Staff members who are older than their manager often think they should have been next in line for the job. Yet the younger manager/older worker configuration is the new normal in business, and the mix of generations and perspectives can give the team a competitive edge.”
While simply ignoring ill will may sound tempting, Joseph Grenny—co-author of Crucial Accountability—cautions that what is not talked out will eventually be acted out in negative ways. He suggests having an honest discussion in which you let the other person know you want a productive working relationship that doesn’t skirt sensitive issues like age differences. “Discuss how you’d like to work together and what you jointly hope to accomplish.”
Lack of effective communication isn’t a new workplace problem, but age diversity can make fixing it more challenging than ever. How to start? Raines suggests asking people about their expectations, needs and preferences. “Out of the best of intentions, we often project our preferences onto others. Creating an environment where each staff member can openly share information about work style and preferences, needs and perspectives will help them find ways of working together that will satisfy all participants.”
Another key is to acknowledge generational differences rather than look at them as something to be “fixed.” Raines notes that successful managers fine-tune their message based on the individual. “When communicating with Generation Xers, they give them a deadline and turn them loose to meet it. With Boomers, they allow time for relationship building. With Millennials, they coach, support, and encourage.”
When Grenny and his colleagues studied generational issues, they were struck by this irony: Some people insisted that their co-worker was lazy “because she’s old,” while others said their co-worker was lazy “because she’s young.” “When people attribute their concerns to generational differences, they give themselves an excuse to not confront problems. Generational labels become self-fulfilling prophecies: People think bad behavior is about age, so they don’t confront it, so things don’t change, which further proves the behavior is the result of an age difference.”
Young managers can avoid committing this fundamental attribution error by evaluating staff members on results and actions rather than age. Recognizing unique strengths and contributions creates an environment in which individuals feel valued for what they accomplish and sets the stage for the same courtesy being extended to managers.
Feel you aren’t being taken seriously? Be sure you’re attending to the hard, yet critical, parts of being a leader. “Don’t settle for mediocrity,” urge Brad Karsh and Courtney Templin, co-authors of Manager 3.0: A Millennial’s Guide to Rewriting the Rules of Management. “Memorable and effective managers are those who pushed their team and didn’t let them just get by.” Karsh and Templin also state the importance of having the “tough” conversations. “It can be awkward and difficult to deliver feedback to your team, especially if they are older, but it needs to happen. Be direct, sincere, and specific; make it clear you are sharing insights and perspectives because you want them to grow and develop professionally.”
Lastly, Raines urges Millennial managers to be patient but confident. “Earning respect and credibility takes time. Remember that you were hired for this job because someone believed you were the best choice.”
Make sure you believe it, too.