With the continued rise of millennials and the other end (the mature workforce) expanding, the younger-boss/mature employee dynamic is one that’s becoming more and more commonplace. I’ve no issue being managed by a younger person – as a woman starting her career later in life, it was pretty common place for my bosses to be younger than me and male but that’s another conversation. The age dynamics created interesting interactions – millennial leaders who sometimes “overcompensated” because of age, Boomers who made it their responsibility to be as difficult as possible because their boss was younger and Boomers who acted more as a parent, rather than a leader. (I really don’t know why they’d do that, I assure you I’ve already raised my own two talented millennials and would have zero desire to go down that road again voluntarily).
Then, in the latter part of my corporate CEO life, I inadvertently found myself mentoring my younger CEO peers and thus feel qualified to share my top tips for any younger managers who find themselves in the fortuitous position of leading maturer employees (I will not have us maligned!).
1. Be authoritative but not authoritarian (aka don’t be a dick!).
As a younger manager you may still be trying to find your own feet and naturally as we’ve all done at some point you can experience self-doubt about your competence. When faced with a tricky scenario you work harder to portray confidence and authority but there’s a fine line between acting being in charge and unnecessary displays of authority just to show who’s in charge. Don’t be too proud to ask for the help of your experienced team members who may have been through whatever challenge you’re facing. The level of confidence and deference you demonstrate will go a long way towards helping you establish your authority.
2. On the contrary, don’t be afraid to be the boss.
In an effort not to come across as an authoritarian, you may go to the extreme opposite and end up leading by consensus. Collaborating with your team is great but you can’t be a pushover! You should have the confidence to confront issues, establish expectations, hold people accountable and make unpopular decisions. In doing so however, remember that being the boss does not make you infallible, so when you make mistakes (and you will) own them, Boss up and handle them in the way you’d want your team to handle their own. Setting the example of blaming others or making excuses, just gives your employees a license to do the same. It also puts you in a poor light with your mature workers who seem to have a built in warning system (otherwise known as a bullsh*t detector) for younger managers who do not accept responsibility for their decisions.
3. Ask questions.
Because they feel pressure to prove themselves, young managers often make the mistake of relying only on themselves to make decisions. Yes, you’re the boss but that doesn’t mean you know everything. Those Oldies have probably been around a long time and most definitely a lot longer than you! They have years of company or industry-specific knowledge, so don’t be too proud to leverage it. Make an effort to interview each of your direct reports, asking them about their daily routines, challenges and what would they do to make the department better?
4. Talk to me!
Communicate frequently and transparently! Don’t underestimate the importance of communicating and giving feedback in the way each team member responds best. Generational differences may mean that you’re used to receiving quick social media messages or emails whereas an older worker still values their manager stopping by their desk to thank them for staying late to bring a project over the finish line. Please, please, please don’t fire or chastise anyone via email, text or Whatsapp – it won’t end well. Be flexible in your communication style and you’ll have a more productive, happy and loyal team.
5. Understand what motivates me
Us older workers have been around the block. We’ve often reached the pinnacle of our career and so our primary goal is not usually to strive for promotions or to climb the corporate ladder. The chances are we’ve already done that (or as much of it as we wanted to or are capable of). Right now, we just want to enjoy what we’re doing and make a contribution where we can. This can be difficult for a younger manager to comprehend as you’re still likely in your career-building stage. I’m also going to add that this doesn’t mean we don’t still have a sense of pride in producing stellar work, it just means we’re not doing it as a strategic career move, we’re doing it because we’re still that good and you need to recognize that!
6. We’re not all the same!
Lastly, I know one gray haired person looks the same as the next, but we’re not! A seasoned baby boomer of 70 is NOT the same as a seasoned 55-year old, we both have different goals and needs. You wouldn’t assume the same, if that 15-year gap was between your work experience intern and the latest hot-shot Management graduate. Lose the stereotypes, we’re individuals just like everyone else on your team so treat us accordingly and we’ll get along just fine.
Are you a Millennial manager? What’s been your experience of managing older employees at work? Share your success stories – I would love to hear them!