If you're a Millennial with high leadership potential and abilities, there's a good chance that you're going to run into one particular scenario in the next 5-10 years:
You're going to have to manage someone older than you. (And you're probably going to feel like the kid in the picture above.)
At least for the next little while, there will continue to be a mix of Millennials, Gen Xers, Baby Boomers and maybe even some Traditionalists in your workplace. As those two latter groups continue to retire, there will be a need to fill leadership positions with those who are ready for them – which includes Millennials.
A consequence of that is that your team is likely to be made up of people from across the generational spectrum, including people who have more experience than you. And if you don't have direct reports, you may have clients or customers who are older but still looking to you for advice and guidance – and you have to provide that.
I've faced both of these scenarios and lived to tell about it :-) When the question, "How do I manage someone older than me?" comes across your brain, here's some things I wish I would have known.
1. Embrace The Experience of Others – And Learn
When you're a manager or consultant to people older than you, their volume of experience can often be the greatest source of friction. For them, it can be a source of resentment – why did this person get the promotion when I've put in my time? For you, it can be a cause of extreme doubt – how can I lead through situations I've never been through before?
Instead of worrying about this experience discrepency, embrace it.
Ask lots of questions. The more experienced members of your team can bring a huge amount of value. Dive into their knowledge base:
- When has something like this happened before?
- How did that go?
- What worked well that we should try again?
- What didn't go well that we should try to avoid?
- If something didn't work, why? Can we adjust something minor to get better results?
- What if we approached this problem from a different angle?
- Based on your past experience or different perspective, am I missing something that we should be looking at?
Don't fall into the trap of doing what's always been done just because. However, taking a deeper look at history can help you get a more holistic vision of how to approach a current challenge or opportunity.
Being a good question-asker also kills two birds with one stone: You have the opportunity to learn from others and expand your own skillset. Your team gets the chance to be an integral part of the decision-making process.
2. You Don't Have to Be "The Boss"
This was a big one for me – I did not want the stigma of being "the boss". I didn't want to dictate orders. I didn't want to be the person that others are afraid to talk to. I didn't want to be seen as "above" or "separate" from those on my team. I have no interest in being the stereotype we all have of the person lurking around every corner, babysitting you to make sure you do your job.
But, here's the beauty of it all: you don't have to be.
The best bosses have a lot of ideal qualities and they all approach management differently. At the end of the day, regardless of style, good management comes down to one big thing: trust. Does your team trust you to have their back and make the best choices with the information you have?
You don't have to be the commander from up on high to make that happen. You can be a part of the team, ask for feedback and input, listen when things are hard, go out for happy hour on a Friday night, tell jokes and have fun – as long as your team trusts you to go to bat for them, genuinely hear their input and make the tough (but well-informed) decisions when the time calls for it.
If that trust isn't there, your leadership style is irrelevant. If it is, you do you in the way that best matches up with your authentic self.
3. Understand How Your Strengths Work Together
As a manager, it's your job to put together a team whose strengths work in tandem to move you toward a common goal. You may inherit an existing team, clients or customer base. You may be building one from the ground up. Your team may be older or younger than you. It doesn't matter. You must recognize the strengths that everyone brings to the table and figure out how to best leverage them for success.
That goes for you as well. You aren't – and will never be – great at everything. Neither will the members of your team. And that's okay. Complement the gaps of each other. Provide opportunities for people to work in their strength areas. Help reframe undesirable, but must-do, tasks through the lens of each person's unique strength areas.
The manager that leads from a position of maximizing strengths –instead of wallowing on weaknesses – will assuredly improve:
And those are goals every organization can be in favor of.
Side note: We have a really awesome tool to help you figure out what the strengths of your team are and how you can leverage them to increase the three bullet points above – check it out!
4. Be Confident – But Not Arrogant – In Your Abilities
At the end of the day, you were placed in a position of leadership for a reason. Someone higher up the ladder believes you are capable of leading a group of people – whether they be coworkers, clients or customers – and you need to believe in yourself as well. When things aren't going well, have confidence in the notion that you will figure it out because you are smart, talented and always open to learning more.
That being said – don't get cocky. That seems to be the biggest gripe about Millennial employees, that we feel "entitled" to promotions and positions of leadership. You're not entitled to anything. You need to put in the work and demonstrate your abilities just as much as the next person.
Instead of cockiness and arrogance, default to confidence – recognize and believe at your very core that you are talented, knowledgeable and competent. You don't need to shove that in the faces of others for it to be true. People will recognize that belief in yourself and be drawn to it.
While certain people do seem to have an innate ability to lead others, for the majority of us, being a good manager comes through experience, coaching, training and gathering the advice of others. In a nutshell – it won't happen overnight.
But you will be great if you take the time to learn from the experience of others, create your own approach to management, lead from a position of maximizing the strengths of your team and always default to confidence in your abilities. Those above and around you have faith you can do it.
Now it's just time to have faith in yourself.