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How Do We Build Acceptance of Younger Managers?

We have some fast-rising young managers — some homegrown, some hired externally — who are faced with leading mixed work teams that sometimes include co-workers who are older than they are. This presents an interesting dynamic and we are trying to help these managers build respect and credibility with subordinates who are of an older generation.

— Generation Gap, Santa Monica, California

July 10, 2014
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Dear Generation Gap:

Your question is not an unusual one, given that the younger generation, known as millennials, will be the majority of the workforce in a few years. They will find their way into leadership positions through their desire, education, technological savvy, multi-tasking skills and their motivation to take on more. They will offer their values, ideas, ways of working and thinking about work. And while their thoughts aren’t necessarily new, there are soon to be more people thinking in innovative and progressive ways.

New managers will likely manage employees who are older than they are. Some of these older employees will have had experiences that a new, young manager hasn’t had yet, in the work setting as well as in their personal life. They may be married, have children and even grandchildren. New managers may feel completely disconnected because of this gap in life experiences. They may choose to be disconnected because they don’t know how to connect with these older individuals.  

New managers will feel more connected to employees closer to their own age. They will have more in common and the conversation flow might be easier. Whatever the topic, my advice is to be consistent in the way you treat your employees. Treat everyone the same, even if it is easier to relate to people your own age.  

One of the greatest steps new managers can take is to build relationships — get to know their people. They may not know about some life experiences, but it doesn’t mean they can’t ask about family, past work experience and career path aspirations. We all have those things, even though they look a little different from one person to the next. 

In addition to getting to know your people, building a personal connection with your employees will help a new manager understand them better — their communication style, what motivates them, how they learn best and the things that matter to them. Knowing those things will help a manager (new or seasoned) be a better leader.  

It’s also important to remember that the older generation has been around the block, sometimes more than once. They can be one of the best resources for a new manager. They have often been with the company for a long time, so they know what works and what doesn’t. Most of the time, they have great ideas and they’re more than willing to share. They want to be part of the decision-making process and are more than willing to share their knowledge. New managers have to be willing to ask. 

While it can be a bit intimidating for a new manager to hold older employees accountable for their performance, it is a must! Not only for the older employees but for everyone that manager supervises. As a manager, if you effectively coach and care about everyone on your team, help them understand their mistakes and how to work through them, provide the training they need and please recognize their successes — big ones and small ones — you’ll gain their respect, regardless of age. Your credibility as a manager will soar and you will earn the respect you desire and deserve. 

SOURCE: Margaret Walker, principal at FutureSense Inc., a management consulting firm, Costa Mesa, California, June 19, 2014

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 The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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