My mentor and I sat in a crowded restaurant. When he ordered fried food as an appetizer, I knew something was up. Then he said it: After 33 years, he was retiring. He had reached the mandatory retirement age for his company and was officially stepping down. “I can’t choose my age,” he said, “but I can choose my attitude.” Apparently his attitude involved fishing.
Our conversation moved to his sharing how he once was the youngest person in the room. Eventually he became the oldest. He said one irony is that in his day, young people—apparently my age—would rarely find themselves in situations where they were managing people older than themselves. Today this is common, of course. And as he pointed out, you have to be able to manage people younger and older.
Teaching how to manage people of all ages is a passion of mine. Here are 6.5 tips for managing people who are not near you in age:
1. Don’t assume people older than you think you’re too young for your job. Just because you’re the age of their kids doesn’t mean they intend to treat you like one—unless you bring your mom to work. (That one is pretty much unrecoverable.)
2. On the flip side, don’t assume employees younger than you think you’re not the right person to lead them. While younger workers may appear more comfortable with newer technology, being an outstanding manager involves soft skills and wisdom that comes only through years of experience.
3. Let people of every age know that you respect what they bring to the job. Every person brings different strengths. Using your own strengths as a method to measure others is a surefire way to lose the diversity that makes your team strong. I guarantee you that experienced workers know things about your job that will save your rear end. Treat them with respect, and they’ll tell you what you don’t even know to ask about.
4. Intentionally create teams of workers that include people of all ages. By bringing their different perspectives to every project, problem and other types of situations, you will develop a better understanding of your challenges and options for dealing with them. In short, their diverse input will make you stronger, no matter your age or theirs.
5. You will be tested. That’s not because you’re younger or older than folks reporting to you. It’s because you’re in charge. Leaders get tested. Every day. How you handle those tests sends a message bigger than your title, degree or background.
6. Don’t be tempted to hang out with employees your age after work hours. If you are their boss, then hanging out with them after hours will make them think that you’re their friend more than you’re their boss. If you create an ambiguous relationship like that, it usually ends badly.
6.5. Change your publicly viewable Facebook photos. You know the ones I’m talking about. If I can see your pictures online in that embarrassing outfit, so can your employees of every age. And, no, there is never a good reason to be Facebook friends with your employees; trust me on this one.
As you and I forge ahead, we’ll supervise people older and younger—it’s a byproduct of being employed. Some of our managing days will be tough, some will be great and lots will fall in between. The good news is that while you can’t choose your age, you can choose your attitude. My attitude doesn’t include fishing, but it does include using Facebook when on a boat. That’s kind of the same thing, right?
What tips do you have for managing those older or younger than you? Share below in the comments.
You might or might not be supervising your elders in the workplace, but have you thought of striking up a friendship with the older people in your life? Find out how they can be a shortcut to great life lessons.