Marketwired Blog

Gen Y boss? How to manage a team that might be older

By Kelli Korducki


It’s a story as old as time: young hotshot enters the workplace, dazzles upper management with shrewd displays of new tech know-how, puts in tireless hours and poof! Suddenly the young upstart has won herself a management role, overseeing the duties of other employees who are older and, likely, more experienced.


In an age that increasingly relies on rapid mastery of new technologies, the story of the ranks-climbing workplace youngster isn’t such a stretch. But this doesn’t make the scenario any less awkward, and those potential strains can be amplified in the close-quarters setting of a small business.


Bruce Tulgan, author and founder of management training firm RainmakerThinking, Inc., says that the nature of possible tension varies depending on whether the new young manager has been a colleague of the older person or is a new outside hire tasked with managing an existing, perhaps more experienced, team.


“If that new young manager is coming in from the outside, the first thing they should do is call a team meeting and say ‘I want to learn from you,’” says Tulgan.


From there, the new manager should acknowledge that he or she needs to get caught up on the intricacies of this particular workplace culture, and only then lay out his or her credentials and goals for the organization. After the team meeting, the manager should also schedule one-on-one meetings with each individual employee to establish “a regular, ongoing conversation.”


Tulgan advises scheduling a team meeting for newly promoted internal managers, as well, but advises a shift in the conversation’s tone.


“Here, it’s ‘Hey, they put me in charge. I don’t want it to be awkward. Here’s why I think they put me in that role, what I bring to my table, and my view of our mission and goals and where everybody fits. I want to help you, and I want you to help me.’”


Tulgan stresses that it’s important for young managers to recognize that the experience and know-how of their older staff does matter.


“It’s important to acknowledge that there’s a difference in experience, and to say, ‘Good news: I recognize your value, and I’m going to try to learn from you and use you as an advisor. But also, I have to do my job and my job is to be in charge.’”


It’s also crucial for new managers to suss out future relationships with individual staff. “Ask questions. Figure out, is this person going to be a sage advisor, a problem, or a person just like anyone else.”


Moving forward, Tulgan advises young managers to be mindful of their own tendencies; many will gravitate towards extremes, either by taking an overly heavy-handed management approach, or by being too passive. Ultimately, the manager’s goal is to empower employees to reach their fullest potential in achieving the team’s targets.


“Real empowerment is setting people up for success, being honest with them about what’s up to them and what’s not, being very clear about expectations, and then keeping score.”




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