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August 08, 2008


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I'm 26 and manage several people in their 40s and 50s (tech industry, white collar positions). There was some dissonance early on, but it wound up being smoothed over after the president of our company basically told everyone to suck it up or leave. The bottom line is that "age" does not count as a valid reason to work poorly with any of your coworkers at any level, and if you let it get the best of you, you're setting yourself up to get fired.

The important flip side to this equation is that while there is a reason that a young person has been promoted to a managerial position, there is also a reason why the older employees have not.

Managers and worker-bees have very different skill sets in the first place, and younger workers have a significant advantage in adapting to new skill sets that become important in the workplace. So if you're working in a fast-changing industry, you should EXPECT to have a younger manager throughout, say, the last half of your career.

If you're hung up about the age of your boss, coworkers, or subordinates, do everyone a favor and get out of the way.

I've been working at this company since I graduated high school and worked full time through college. I've been here over 9 years and worked in several different IT positions and I am still one of the youngest employees in my office. So I don't have any experience working for a younger boss, but I've had to work with and train some people much older than me. I think to go any further within this company would require a move to a management position, but I feel like my relative youth would make that more difficult. What's worse is that I look at least 10 years younger than I am. I am debating about going back to school for an MBA but I'm not convinced of the value yet. From the target audience of FMF's post, any advice to that "kid" who wants to be your boss?

Yeah, I made a big mistake of taking a job at a start-up Internet company (1999 -- the height of the madness) founded by a "genius" 26 year old with degrees from MIT. Man, is that guy pleased with himself!!! It was a disaster, mostly because he just *knew everything*. He's still out there, running Internet conferences and worshiping himself. I assume he still knows everything.

I am a younger manager. I have direct reports who are 20+ years older than me. With some of them I was aware of some animosity and resentment when I became their boss. With others there was no noticeable resentment. I think the resentment has resided somewhat as the older reports have realized I am a competent manager. I think with any new manager you wonder if they have what it takes to lead and manage. Because someone is young, you sometimes assume one doesn't have the experience to be successful even though they might have the skills.
I can not say I wouldn’t have some of those same feelings especially if I thought the younger manager was truly not competent. As FMF said, that person is your boss and if you behave accordingly you will have a good relationship.

One thing I think people don't realize sometimes is that your boss is the first person you need to please. They hold the key to your advancement. It is important to exercise your own expertise when you believe in something. It is not wise to push a belief "too far" when your boss has a differing opinion regardless of whether you "know" you are right.

I think it's just as challenging being the young boss as it is being the older worker.

In my current job with the US Navy and NATO, I walked into a situation where not only was I 10-ish years younger than my staff, but also I was junior (not just in age but they out-ranked me in military terms as well), and I had absolutely no experience in the subject area I was being asked to lead in. Talk about a leadership challenge.

I had a choice. I could either try and lead with de-facto authority (which I didn't do) or I could recognize the points above and reach out to my followers, let them know their importance to me and that I knew my success was tied directly to the support, education and advice I would need from them.

The last 18 months have been a huge success because of how I chose to lead those that were older, more senior and more experienced.

Success in this situation is not solely on the shoulders of the older follower. It's highly dependent upon the approach the young leader chooses to take. High, mighty and all-knowing, or humble, respectful and eager to learn.

I recommend the latter.

I'm Minding My Own Business, are you minding yours?

I am 10 years old and manage 100,000 senior employees. They pick up my toys and stuff so I guess I am pretty capable

John, I have doubts about the accuracy of your statement. 100,000 senior employees? I think you may be puffing up the numbers for your resume. I doubt you even have that many toys to pick up.

I am somewhat on the flip-side of the coin. I am working for my in-laws. There are many employees that have been here for 10+ years and are much older than me. I am in my mid-twenties, and have been here for 2 years. Many consider me a "boss" even though I really am not. It is actually and uncomfortable position to be in, and I appreciate it when they just treat me like I'm just another employee.

I am 28, and my employees range in age from 32 to 52. In all honesty, I have had no problems with the age difference at all, and to my knowledge none of my staff has either. I was their peer prior to getting the promotion and I proved my worth as a member of the team in terms of competence and leadership. The one thing I would say is by not making it an issue it becomes less of one. Act like a leader. Don't do childish things. Continue to earn their respect and teach them like the adults they are. Those things are true no matter what age anyone is.

I have found throught the years that the very young in management would do better if they would wipe that brown stuff off their noses. Most of them are on nothing more than a power trip to begin with. What really bugs me is they tend to walk on the very people that generate the income that pays their wages, something most lose sight of.

I am like a few others here, in that I am 27, and I am actually the youngest person in my department. I make the same amount of money as my boss, who is at least 15 years my senior, but at most 20 years my senior. I worked full-time through college in my industry and I have tripled my salary since I started. I had a review several months ago, and I basically told my boss that my next job move would be for a position similar to his, IT Manager.

An IT Manager should have some level of competence in both technology and management, balancing each other in some way where a greater knowledge in one area compensates for a lesser knowledge in the other. My boss is no leader, and has no concept of technologies from the past 15 years... and I question his competence in technologies that line his resume.

In any event, I am not the only one that shares has this perception of him, including all of his subordinates, and all of his superiors (I know not what others in the company think of him). Well, I believe he is about two weeks from losing his job... and I am being asked by his boss to take on more responsibilities. I have been tasked with developing a new job description for myself... but my boss is involved with it. Anyhow, I have used some networking sites to solicit feedback based on my existing and new responsibilities and the only titles that are being suggested are IT Manager or higher (CTO, CIO, etc), which was the issue that I was originally having and why I solicited advice.

So, it appears that I could very well be leading several people my junior (some just barely my junior, others noticeably older than myself). I am ready for the responsibility, and I have held supervisory positions in the past (shift manager at a fast food restaurant, while I was in high school, and a team leader of about 15 people in a tech support call center).

My advice for ACM is to start working on that MBA, something I am starting in January. I cannot think of anything worse than moving into management and some time down the road have to look for another job without having one. It is one thing to work yourself into a position based on accomplishments and value within an organization; it is another thing to convince an organization that you can do those things when they have not witnessed your work. Begin working on the MBA, and it will keep your future open; some places require an MBA.

I've been on both sides of the stream with this one. I've been in my present managerial position for over 25 years. When I came on board, everyone was older than me. I had to really prove myself with my older staff. That's not a bad thing; respect needs to be earned, and I also went to my staff for advice and input. I let them know very early on that they were important to me and that together as a team we could carry out the company's goals. Now I oversee younger people, and that's a stretch also. However, I've learned that if you treat people with respect and opening affirm their knowledge and value, and give appropriate credit, most older (and younger staff)will be in your corner.

I've had many employees which were 10-20 years older than me. I can say, it's just as hard for the boss as it is for the employee. Overall, I never had any major problems, but it can be difficult reprimanding an employee who is old enough to be your parent. It just feels weird.

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