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By Anja van den Berg

More than 60% of Millennials and nearly half of Gen Z employees say they are people managers. If you are one of them, standing at the helm of a team of people who are older than you will be one of your main challenges. How can you prompt your team’s trust, respect, and admiration when there’s a five-year, or maybe even a 10-year (or more) age difference?

Here are three key strategies you can put into practice:

  • Adapt your communication tactics

Younger managers may prefer a direct, to-the-point communication style. On the other hand, your team members may favour spending the first few minutes of every meeting chit-chatting and making pleasant small talk. “Pay attention to the pace they’re used to and cater your style when appropriate”, suggests Dr Chip Espinoza, an expert on generational diversity in the workplace. Additionally, an older generation tends to divide work and life more than young people do, Espinoza continues. Thus, reconsider sending 11 p.m. emails and avoid communicating between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless absolutely necessary.

  • Find coleaders

Identify and befriend those team members who are on your side.  Finding coleaders is essential for effective leadership, but even more so when managing a team of people who are older than you. Your coleaders will be your allies, the early adopters, your cheerleaders.  Often, they’ve been with the company for a while and are trusted by their colleagues. Their years of experience can help you navigate your new responsibilities, build your management skills, and avoid tenuous situations.

  • Don’t be a bulldozer

Proactively share your leadership style and expectations, but don’t just swoop in on day one and change everything.  Espinoza advises that you bring your team into discussions to determine where you can successfully change things and ascertain where they will resist new ideas. Ask them questions like ”what is the one thing you don’t want to see changed”, and ”what’s the one thing you think needs to change?” Those with institutional knowledge can advise you on previous attempts at making changes that didn’t work. Their experience can save you the stress and embarrassment of making the same mistake.

Make a concerted effort to educate yourself about how to manage well, says Alison Green. Green is the author of Ask a Manager: How to Navigate Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work.

She advises younger managers to learn about delegating, giving feedback, and setting goals and holding people accountable.

Furthermore, young managers would also need to handle performance problems and develop their people. Maybe more than anything, young managers need to learn how to “exercise authority without being either an unreasonable tyrant or a wimpy pushover”. When people see you executing your job competently, they’re going to care more about your capabilities than what year you were born.



Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2020/12/when-youre-younger-than-the-people-you-manage

Monster.com: https://www.monster.com/career-advice/article/how-to-manage-people-who-are-older-than-you-0717

Inc.: https://www.inc.com/alison-green/when-you-re-younger-than-everyone-you-manage.html

Zapier: https://zapier.com/blog/millennial-managers-report/

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