How To Manage Someone Older Than You: three tips

29 September 2017 -

Young ManagerYou’re frequently compared to a colleague’s child (or even grandchild!) and you regularly get comments about how young you look. Being the young manager can be very awkward. But it doesn’t have to be. Insights offers tips on managing people older than you are

Jermaine Haughton

Just four years after finishing university, Stephanie Jenkins was fast-tracked into a line management position at a leading digital advertising company, after impressing directors with a series of revenue-boosting pitch wins.  

However, the 26-year-old from Leeds found the promotion wasn’t so less than welcomed by the team of 25 people she would soon be managing. Three-quarters of them were either significantly older or more experienced than her.

“When my promotion was announced I could feel the smirks and derisory comments from my colleagues. The mood had certainly changed, which was disappointing. People, who had trained me initially, were now reporting directly to me. One person joked that ‘I must be related to the CEO’,” said Jenkins.

With the oldest millennials already establishing their careers, the generation of people born between the early 1980s and 2000 are quickly becoming managers of their own teams. In the process, they’re shifting the way we all think about business.

From tech bosses such as Pinterest’s co-founder Ben Silbermann and Tinder CEO Sean Rad to media moguls such as TechCrunch editor-in-chief Alexia Tsotsis to Scottish MP Danielle Rowley, 20- and 30-somethings are making waves across all walks of life.

As well as having a fresh approach to work – with a focus on flexibility, fulfilment and collaboration – millennials are also redefining leadership, workplace culture and management with, for example, their use of workplace analytics, reporting and communication tools.

In some circles millennials have been stereotyped as entitled, unfocused, even narcissistic. And for new managers, this stereotype can be difficult to overcome; many millennial bosses will fear that they’ll be dismissed by colleagues simply due to their youth.

It’s perfectly normal for a new manager to experience nerves when assuming new responsibilities; so having doubts cast over your ability because of your tender age can make the burden weigh even heavier.

“I was hesitant to give feedback or be as directive with some older people as I probably needed to be,” said Jenkins. “I could also sense that some staff were not working as hard as before, and talking to them about their under-performance seemed to fall on deaf ears.”

Here are three key tips to managing more experienced staff.

Focus on Communication

In any managerial position, communication is important. But it is particularly so when dealing with older and more experienced individuals in your team who have a wealth of wisdom that could benefit the organisation if handled right.

Being a great communicator often means knowing when to listen and when to share. By being receptive to the knowledge your staff have, managers can demonstrate that they respect them, which is likely to improve their own standing as team leader.

Holding frequent informal one-on-one meetings with your teammates discussing their opinions on the way things are going in the office, and dedicating a certain amount of time in team meetings for all employees to ask any questions, or point out any issues they have been experiencing, are among many successful tactics used by top bosses.

Let them do their jobs

Finding out what motivates your older employees, and tailoring your management actions to those motivations, can be a method of gaining respect for your skills and position, regardless of age.

Some employees may be seeking greater flexibility to spend time with their families, some people may want more responsibility on big company projects and tasks to gain a promotion, while others value stability, wanting as little disruption to their typical work routine as possible.

Sit down with each of your direct reports one by one, and talk about their jobs. But rather than the details of specific projects, the conversation can be about how they see their future, what they like and don’t like about what they do, and how you could make their work go more smoothly or be more rewarding.

Top managers are often not afraid to ask experienced employees how they’d prefer to be managed. A simple question from team leaders such as, ‘What can I do to help you be more productive and achieve your workplace goals?’ By being personable, open and flexible to the needs of your colleagues, you are more likely to gain their trust and support, and see better results and a more loyal workforce in the long term.

Remember You’re the Manager

Top young managers are typically able to acknowledge the input of older people without acquiescing their role as the final decision-maker. While it is important to accept feedback from your older and more experienced colleagues, your position as the manager of the team should not be underestimated.

Regardless of your team’s opinions on your position, you have a responsibility to lead a group of people to reach certain goals and targets in line with the business’s objectives.

Therefore, many top managers take a multi-faceted approach, which is rooted in the same energy, drive and results-driven success that initially won them the promotion, alongside the openness to help the team understand and work through mistakes with face-to-face interaction and training, and a steely ruthlessness in addressing conflict and under-performance.

There is a host of resources, checklists and further reading about how to succeed as a new manager on CMI’s ManagementDirect

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