Are you a young boss that manages people older than you? I have, and it can definitely be a challenge.
Here are my top 5 tips for younger bosses who manage someone older from my post in Minted Magazine:
1. Make sure you make time to go to events outside of the office to get to know your direct reports in an informal setting. This reduces tension and everyone can get to know each other on a personal level.
2. Learn about their families and ask questions as much as possible. This is a huge part of their lives and even though you may not be able to contribute to the conversation, you have to be able to ask and show that it is important to you to know about their personal lives.
3. Try not to bring up the topic of age. It comes up sometimes, but I personally hate when someone asks me (the younger boss) how old I am and how old my direct reports are. It is so not appropriate!
4. Learn from them. There is so much that I learn from my own direct reports every day. It may not be about your actual job or what you are doing day to day, but it is things like life and how to be a mom that I learn from my current direct report.
5. Always be professional. There is no excuse not to.
I hope these tips help you if you are a young boss!
Here are some more tips that I have on being a great young boss:
What has been the biggest difference in terms of communication when you manage someone older?
My direct report and I have been working together for almost 3 years. When I took on this leadership position 3 years ago, not only did I have to learn how to be a manager but I also had to learn the ropes of telling someone to do something that was 10 years (I think!?) older than me! I tried my best not to think about age. In many ways, I think I subconsciously just thought of her as younger and me as older. I think that is the only way that I could make it work and not feel really weird about bossing her around. I had to learn that I couldn’t put myself in her shoes and think about what it might be like for her. I could only control myself and how I chose to handle the situation.
How have you maximized effective communication?
I had to make it very clear in the beginning that I wanted her to ask me a lot of questions. In the beginning, I went out of my way to ask her, ”Do you have any questions? How are things going?” The reason that this is important is because I move through my list of things really fast and I am not use to slowing down. I have learned to make sure that I make the time to slow down and explain things to her. I think those of us in our 20s have learned how to manage a lot of different tasks at one time. We are constantly distracted by email and Facebook and of course our daily job. She had been out of the workforce for 8 years to have a child and a lot had changed when she returned. We have so much information that is coming at us in all different directions.
Another thing that is different about us is that I am always looking to change things up and find better ways to do things. I often feel like she would rather continue to do things the way it has always been done than change something. This is where I have learned to communicate my thoughts better and to make sure that I get her buy in before implementing changes I want to make.
How have you been able to effectively earn respect from your direct report?
I definitely felt weird about it in the beginning and was worried that she wouldn’t want to listen to what I said or asked her to do. I felt like I couldn’t be her mentor because I was younger. But, I made sure I treated her the same as I would for anyone else and I was very patient. I think when you are managing someone that is older than you, there is absolutely no room for unprofessional behavior. You need to earn their respect from day 1 so it is important to never give them an opportunity to lose respect for you. I have now become her mentor and provide advice and career guidance even though I am younger than her.
I also learned many things that have helped me become a better manager. I have this major drive to be a leader and I am always looking to move up in my company by taking on a new challenge. But, this isn’t for everyone. Some people are happy with working for other people and don’t want to be in charge. It seems silly but at the beginning of managing my direct report, I didn’t understand that. I thought everyone was working to move up and get ahead.
A lightbulb went off for me one day when I told her that she should go for this new position with lots of great future opportunities for her. I thought for sure since she was older that she would want to get going up on that corporate ladder. She said, “No, I just want to work for you.” People’s strengths and goals are so very different and that is what I have learned the most about managing an older direct report. Not everyone is like me and you have to dig deep to find their strengths and skills and encourage them to be the successful employees that you know that they can be.
Were there any challenges in the beginning? If there weren’t, can you think of any challenges that some other younger managers may go through?
I think one of the big things is the differences when you manage someone older is where we are at in our lives. She has an 8-year-old child and I don’t have kids. So I need to be aware of that when I ask her to stay late. Or I have to be flexible when she has to leave work early because her daughter is sick. I need to be understanding of that and put myself in her shoes even though I really have no idea what it is like to be a working mom right now.
I do have a lot of respect for her though, and she works very hard at her job and at being a mom. She calls her daughter during lunch and talks to her and if we are busy with something I have to be OK with that and understanding. There are a lot of things that we can’t click on yet at this point in our lives but we have overcome those challenges to be a great team!
What are your tips for younger bosses to manage someone older?
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