In today’s workforce, about 40% of bosses are younger than those they lead.
Let’s break this down.
Since the oldest Millennial is 38 years old and 35% of the U.S. workforce is comprised of Millennials, it is likely Millennials across the country and across industries are leading older employees. It’s also likely someone who is mid-level in their organization is having to lead someone above them. This could be due to knowledge gaps, resistance to change, lack of innovation, or even inexperience.
What do you do when you are senior in age or experience to those to whom you are reporting? The natural reaction might be frustration. Some may feel embarrassed. Others infuriated to the point where they quit their job. The fact of the matter is that the boss who is younger than you may actually be more talented but have fewer repetitions than you.
In today’s high-competition workplace, it might not be easy to find a boss who meets your personal and professional needs. If you’re deciding to stick around, how can you be an enabler for your organization to help your younger boss grow into their role?
Here are 4 things you can do to lead a younger boss.
Be an Enabler
If you are a senior or more-experienced leader in your company, don’t keep lessons learned to yourself. Young leaders will learn lessons on their own, but they do not need, nor should they be expected, to take the same path you took. The days of earning your keep are over. Today’s workplace is all about speed. If you are allowing someone on your team to “learn the hard way”, you are actually contributing to your competition’s success because they will outpace you. Enabling high-potential leaders with knowledge transfer is critical to keeping them moving.
How do you do that?
- Offer to be a sounding board, particularly before big meetings, to enable feedback in private. Rehearsals for big events are critical, the most elite organizations I have been in made their biggest leaps forward in rehearsals.
- Ask them to provide you feedback on bad habits they see you doing, then offer to do the same for them. It’s a big win for both sides.
Be a Storyteller
Use stories to coach others through areas that have tripped you up in the past. In today’s world, we have coaches for everything: pitching, hitting, running, singing. Getting coached is not a sign of weakness. After all, coaching is how world-class performers become champions. Younger bosses may have extremely high IQ’s, fantastic educations, and very valuable work experience that got them to where they are – but so do you. You have an obligation to help your team learn from the scar tissue earned through tough lessons along the way. Providing your lessons in the context of a story can be a great way to illustrate a lesson without spotlighting someone else’s lack of experience.
If you have had the privilege of professional coaching over the course of your professional career, you know it can be a great way to get an objective view of yourself. Offer up what lessons you learned when you received professional coaching and provide a name of someone you trust as a coach.
Make a plan. There is a distinct chance that your boss will not be receptive or want your help. It may take some time, but if you see your boss going down the wrong road it will take an artful approach to help him or her see what you are seeing. Taking the time to determine how you want to offer your help it is critical to making it work.
Transparency requires vulnerability, and this may be the toughest advice to follow. In today’s world, most people have come to grips with the idea that only Google and Wiki know everything – the rest of us are still trying to figure it out. Being honest and transparent about mistakes you have learned from in the past is the best way to transfer knowledge from one generation to the next. This takes courage, and there may be some risk involved in sharing events where you have failed in the past, but the sincerity you demonstrate in sharing your mistakes will show your loyalty to the organization and willingness to put the organization first. Ultimately, a boss worth their salt will appreciate your input and candor.
Younger bosses are the new norm in today’s workforce. When it comes down to it, age really doesn’t matter. Traits like commitment, efficiency, and effectiveness are far more important than age. If you are struggling with frustration because you feel your leader needs leading, ask yourself where your experience can be the most beneficial and consider some of these ideas to navigate these challenging waters.