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Young and In Charge

You’re young, skilled, and motivated which is why you’ve just been promoted to a management position.  A great achievement and one you should truly celebrate, however, the majority of your team are older than you and your inner voice is starting to speak caution.

Sound familiar? You’re not alone; more than ever before, those who fall into the Generation Z era (born in the mid-1990’s to early 2000’s), are taking up responsibilities in organisations and commonly finding that their team members were born some years before they were.  

What could seem a bit daunting at first can actually be turned into a fantastic opportunity if you take note of a few leadership pearls of wisdom.

Relationships Matter

Take the time to get to know your team members, their individual strengths, personalities and motivations. Meet with them one-on-one and build rapport. Even if you’re not in the exact same position in life as your reports, you can still take an interest in their lives.

Getting to know your team members will also help you avoid falling into the generation trap of characterising people by their age; which ironically is exactly what you’re trying to prevent them from doing to you! One generation’s skill set isn’t more important than another’s. Teams need all of these strengths to execute projects successfully.

Above all, try to be respectful, curious and open-minded at all times. Remember, with the right team culture you can achieve great things.

Change for Changes Sake

Unfortunately younger generations are characterised by making bold changes when they get into leadership positions. A useful piece of advice for every leader is to make changes when necessary, but respect tradition.

While the old mantra that goes something like: ‘that’s how we’ve always done it’ should never be used as an excuse, sometimes it’s always been done that way for reasons you should take the time to understand.

Change is inevitable but without the buy in from your team – you’re going to create more resistance than a training session on a rowing erg! Make it clear that the changes are important to overall business goals, and take the time to explain the rationale behind it. Be prepared to listen to your team, answer their questions and tweak the changes using the feedback you’re getting.

You’re Not the Best at Everything

In a team dynamic where there is a significant age gap between manager and employee, it’s natural that some competition may arise. As a young leader you may feel like you have to “outdo” your older colleagues to prove your competence, but this can breed resentment.

Remember that your success ultimately relies on the efforts of your entire team. Surrender your ego, and put the team’s ability to succeed first.

One way to combat any competitive undertones that may arise is to make a point of being your team members’ biggest supporter. Go out of your way to make sure your team knows that you’re personally invested in their success.

Don’t be afraid to ask your employees for help, especially when it comes to learning a skill they possess. Building this spirit of collaboration pays dividends when you’re creating a strong team culture.

Leading with Style

Give some thought to the style of leadership you wish to develop. Sometimes, being a young leader with a success driven focus can unwittingly cause you to employ an authoritarian style. While there is no harm in being a little authoritative, you certainly don’t want to be an authoritarian.

The Art of Communication

Being a great communicator means knowing when to listen and when to share.

Ask questions. You’re the boss, but that doesn’t mean you know more than your employees. They’ve been at this (a lot) longer than you, and they have years of industry- or company-specific knowledge. Make use of that.

Be open to feedback and try to develop a trait where you’re not intimidated by others strengths or forcefulness. We all know that feedback can be nerve-wracking and at times it needs to be filtered.  It does however help us to enhance our performance and allow you to give your team feedback in return. To get feedback, ask questions like:

  • What are some things that you want me to do more of?
  • What are some things that I could do better?
  • How do you see me doing that?

Golden rule: once you’ve got the feedback, don’t get defensive if what they’re saying surprises you!

You’ve got this

Finally, have confidence in your own ability and quash that self-doubt. Don’t overthink the age gap issue too much.  It is what it is, and you will earn respect through exercising you’re skillset and building good working relationships. Your superiors have placed you in that position of responsibility because they believe in you – so go for it.

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