As a young leader managing an adult team, it is crucial to recognize the importance of understanding and getting to know team members. Confucius’ wisdom, “Don’t worry about people not knowing you. Worry about not knowing people,” emphasizes the significance of building relationships with team members for success.
Alberta, a 27-year-old specialist in a furniture manufacturing organization, was elated to receive the position of chief designer. However, her excitement was short-lived as she discovered that her team was comprised of experienced professionals, with the youngest member at 45 years old and the oldest at 58 years old. They initially perceived Alberta as inexperienced and too young to lead them, which created a communication barrier. Despite her best efforts to implement modern techniques, the team was unwilling to embrace change and greeted Alberta’s suggestions with hostility, leading to the failure of her first project.
Young leaders often see themselves as excellent specialists when they receive a promotion.
However, a lack of management experience can cause issues, especially when employees are not receptive to the new boss. Although the manager’s career depends on the work of their subordinates, differences between generations can play a significant role in their ability to manage their team. Most modern offices are a mix of generations X, Y, and baby boomers. While younger employees are typically more adaptable to new technologies, older employees may not be as comfortable with multitasking. A competent leader will understand each employee’s qualities and build relationships accordingly, regardless of their age.
- As market conditions continue to evolve, companies must introduce new management approaches, leading to more situations where a manager is much younger than their subordinates. Young leaders are often bold and make competent decisions, but employees must be stable and experienced. Experience often comes with age, but a leader must have the qualities of leadership, energy, and a willingness to take risks.
- Information technology is essential in modern business, and specialists who can use modern technologies are highly valued. While younger specialists may be more cost effective for the company, their desire to achieve high goals is often embedded in their approach to work.
The situation called “young specialist in the boss’s chair” is not new. However, it can be the beginning of problems, conflicts, skirmishes, and disagreements. Moreover, conflicts have a different level of intensity – from employee dissatisfaction to open sabotage. The heads of other units can also “add gunpowder”, instigating a “quiet war” against the young boss.
How can a young leader effectively work with an “old” team?
Finding a balance between generations and creating a peaceful atmosphere in a work team can be achieved through the following strategies:
- Introduce innovations gradually, taking into account the rhythm of the previous work of colleagues. It is essential to communicate the necessity of changes and give specific examples, inviting experts to talk about the possibilities of new technologies and techniques. Daily reminders of the improvements that will inevitably be seen after the introduction of a new system can reduce resistance. It is also crucial to convey to “older employees” the importance of keeping up with the times and the negative consequences of ignoring innovations.
- Form mixed teams where young employees work alongside experienced ones. Although there may be difficulties, teams with representatives from different generations have more chances for success and fruitful collaboration. They have much to share: young employees can benefit from the experience of the “older” ones, while the latter can learn something new from their more “advanced” colleagues.
- Create an open corporate culture based on mutual respect. This can be achieved through special training and by inviting experienced trainers and coaches to facilitate the process.
- Build credibility with “older” colleagues by demonstrating your leadership skills in practice. Prove your competence by successfully carrying out projects and showing your expertise. Old-timers who see your professionalism and leadership abilities will begin to listen to your opinion.
A young leader can effectively work with an “old” team by introducing changes gradually, forming mixed teams, creating an open corporate culture, and building credibility through demonstrating competence.
When it comes to managing employees, it’s important to focus on the psychological age of the leader rather than their biological age. New leaders, regardless of age, often make the mistake of building the wrong line of behavior from the first day in their new role. During the “adaptation period,” it’s crucial to build the correct line of behavior to avoid negative consequences, such as a collective “against” attitude. Compensation for youth with an authoritarian or rude management regime is not effective.
For young leaders working with employees of the “old school,” the following instruction-cheat sheet may be helpful:
- Find common ground in your vision of the company and the positions of the “old guard.”
- Show respect for employees and evaluate their work impartially.
- Strive for sincere, human relations with subordinates.
- Be punctual and adhere to strict dress code, addressing all employees by their correct names.
- Evaluate your capabilities objectively and don’t be afraid to ask for advice or talk to more experienced employees.
- Admit your own mistakes and share responsibility with the team.
- Don’t emphasize your superiority or importance in communicating with colleagues, as this can increase negativity.
- Build clear and precise requirements that are understandable to all employees.
- Determine who the “informal leader” of the team is and make them a like-minded person.
- Rely on a democratic management style, recognize experience, and take into account the opinions of others.
By following these guidelines, a young leader can effectively manage an “old guard” team while building positive relationships with employees. Mutual respect, clear communication, and recognition of experience can help create a peaceful and productive work environment.
Now let us come back to Alberta, who has failed a new, promising project. Alberta’s failure to implement a new project can be attributed to her initial approach in building relationships with colleagues and introducing innovations. Alberta needed to establish a clear system of interaction from the start and show colleagues that new technologies would improve the established rules rather than break them. By proving the need for change and demonstrating the benefits of modern gadgets and equipment, the reorganization could have been perceived as a step towards a high-tech future for the company.
The age of the leader is not the most crucial factor for a company. Professionalism, leadership, and human qualities are more important, as well as the ability to find a common language with the existing “backbone” of the team and turn them into a cohesive unit.
This is the key to the company’s success and the young boss’s recognition, leading to further career advancement. In conclusion, by building positive relationships with colleagues, introducing changes gradually, and demonstrating competence, a young leader like Alberta can successfully manage an “old” team and achieve their goals.
Hope you enjoyed reading it! Looking forward to your comments and feedback.
Very truly yours,
ILona B. Schukina