Editor’s Note: We are pleased to welcome Anna Runyan, the founder of Classy Career Girl, named by Forbes as one of the top 35 most influential career sites of 2014. She helps millions of women design and launch their dream careers, businesses and lives through her website, online courses and social media channels. Anna also supported WomanBizLife (now Eunoia Women) in 2012 with her inspiring article. Now, she is pleased to share another career tips on how to manage people more older than you.
My direct report and I have been working together for almost 3 years. When I took on this leadership position 3 years ago, not only did I have to learn how to be a manager but I also had to learn the ropes of telling someone to do something that was 10 years (I think!?) older than me! I tried my best not to think about age. In many ways, I think I subconsciously just thought of her as younger and me as older. I think that is the only way that I could make it work and not feel really weird about bossing her around. I had to learn that I couldn’t put myself in her shoes and think about what it might be like for her. I could only control myself and how I chose to handle the situation.
Maximize Effective Communication
I had to make it very clear in the beginning that I wanted her to ask me a lot of questions. In the beginning, I went out of my way to ask her, ”Do you have any questions? How are things going?” The reason that this is important is because I move through my list of things really fast and I am not use to slowing down. I have learned to make sure that I make the time to slow down and explain things to her. I think those of us in our 20s have learned how to manage a lot of different tasks at one time. We are constantly distracted by email and Facebook and of course our daily job. She had been out of the workforce for 8 years to have a child and a lot had changed when she returned. We have so much information that is coming at us in all different directions.
Another thing that is different about us is that I am always looking to change things up and find better ways to do things. I often feel like she would rather continue to do things the way it has always been done than change something. This is where I have learned to communicate my thoughts better and to make sure that I get her buy in before implementing changes I want to make.
I definitely felt weird about it in the beginning and was worried that she wouldn’t want to listen to what I said or asked her to do. I felt like I couldn’t be her mentor because I was younger. But, I made sure I treated her the same as I would for anyone else and I was very patient. I think when you are managing someone that is older than you, there is absolutely no room for unprofessional behavior. You need to earn their respect from day 1 so it is important to never give them an opportunity to lose respect for you. I have now become her mentor and provide advice and career guidance even though I am younger than her.
I also learned many things that have helped me become a better manager. I have this major drive to be a leader and I am always looking to move up in my company by taking on a new challenge. But, this isn’t for everyone. Some people are happy with working for other people and don’t want to be in charge. It seems silly but at the beginning of managing my direct report, I didn’t understand that.
I thought everyone was working to move up and get ahead. A light bulb went off for me one day when I told her that she should go for this new position with lots of great future opportunities for her. I thought for sure since she was older that she would want to get going up on that corporate ladder. She said, “No, I just want to work for you.” People’s strengths and goals are so very different and that is what I have learned the most about managing an older direct report. Not everyone is like me and you have to dig deep to find their strengths and skills and encourage them to be the successful employees that you know that they can be.
Here are my top 5 tips for younger bosses:
1. Make sure you make time to go to events outside of the office to get to know your direct reports in an informal setting. This reduces tension and everyone can get to know each other on a personal level.
2. Learn about their families and ask questions as much as possible. This is a huge part of their lives and even though you may not be able to contribute to the conversation, you have to be able to ask and show that it is important to you to know about their personal lives.
3. Try not to bring up the topic of age. It comes up sometime but I personally hate when someone asks me (the younger boss) how old I am and how old my direct reports are. It is so not appropriate!
4. Learn from them. There is so much that I learn from my own direct reports everyday. It may not be about your actual job or what you are doing day to day, but it is things like life and how to be a mom that I learn from my current direct report.
5. Always be professional. There is no excuse not to.
I hope these tips help you if you are a young boss! What are your tips for younger bosses?
Classy Career Girl, a blog written by Anna Runyan, helps women find careers they love and start businesses they love in 90 days or less. Click here to download her free plan: 90 Days to An Awesome Career.