Jeff is a talented software developer who recently got his dream job of bringing his network administration expertise into an organization that has an outdated, heavy system. He is enthusiastic about the opportunity to oversee the process from idea through integration. He knows that he can help his new employer develop a nimble, efficient system. So what is the problem? Jeff is 28 and all of the people on his team are at least 40.
Right from his first day, he could sense that his youthful enthusiasm was making eyes roll. He isn’t sure how to foster a sense of trust and develop the appropriate chain of command with his team, when they clearly look at him as a kid.
This is a common scenerio these days, as more generations are working together, and the skill set of younger members are often valued enough that they are put in charge of people their parents’ age. Here is what Jeff (and you) can do to make this transition:
- Maintain an approachable demeaner while keeping your core concerns close to the vest. Of course showing bravado and the pretense of being a know-it-all is nothing short of annoying. At the same time, share your concerns prudently, at least at first.
- Let them know that you respect their knowledge, and are excited about building on that as you work together.
- Be helpful. As you settle into your new role, you will realize that in many instances, the manager’s job is to support his or her team members. It may seem counter-intuitive at first, but the media rarely portrays the typical boss-subordinate relationship accurately. Your “I’m here to help” attitude will go a long way toward establishing trust with your dubious team members.
- Share your expertise. Don’t be shy about sharing what you know. That is why you were given the opportunity. Helping your more experienced team members know that you really do have specialized knowledge (that they need) will increase their respect for you, right out of the gate.
- Pay close attention to culture. Observe how the staff treat each other and their managers. Are they casual, or is there a distant relationship? Are they used to daily or weekly reports? Start by emulating the current culture, and when you know more, you will be able to make the changes that you know will work better with your own style and the team you have been given.
- Be an active listener. Since people who are near the start of their career are not typically thought of as leaders, you may face some patronizing behavior, or even resentment from team members. Listening to their concerns and ideas will help to ameliorate those feelings over time.
- Be confident. Ensure that you do not use phrases or body language that will undermine you. In a recent Harvard Business Review blog post, author Jodi Glickman writes:
“Come from a place of strength when talking to your employees or your team. Start with what you know. Speak with conviction. Give those you manage a clear sense of where you’re headed with any new project or client. Assume that your ideas are good ones until you hear otherwise. You’ll give people an opportunity to weigh in later, but don’t start off by qualifying or undermining your statements with defeating statements like: “This might be wrong, but…” Or, “I’m not sure if you’ll agree, however…” Or, worse yet, “I know I haven’t been here very long, but I think we should…” Those statements are completely and utterly damning.
Instead, communicate your confidence by sharing your ideas, initiatives and strategies openly. “Here’s how we’re planning to move forward with the James account.” Or, “I want to get you up to speed on the Schiller project and fill you in on next steps.” Sound like you know what you’re talking about and people will come to believe that you do.”