Depending on the industry you join, the progress you make in your career, and the companies you work for, you might at some point end up working for a manager that is significantly younger and seemingly less experienced than you. This is quite common at startups, where you might find yourself working for a young founder in her early twenties or a young manager who worked his way up as an early employee. Wherever it might happen, you might feel uncomfortable or uncertain around with a younger manager. Here are a few dos and don’ts to help you interact with them.
Do: Give them respect
Just because they’re younger than you doesn’t mean they don’t belong in the role. There’s always a reason why someone gets hired for or promoted into a role, and they deserve the respect that comes with that position. Start your relationship with a younger manager on the right foot by understanding that they do in fact have the final say in your team, they were chosen for the role for the right reasons, and they are capable of leading and managing the team.
Don’t: Underestimate them
It’s an easy mistake to think that a young individual with fewer years of experience than you might not be as knowledgeable, well-versed, or capable as you. After all, age is generally seen as an indicator of wisdom and a higher level of ability. But taking this heuristic seriously when dealing with a younger manager can lead you to underestimating them. Always begin with the baseline assumption that they are qualified at and above the level of their position, and allow time, achievements, and displays of leadership to give you a full view of how capable they are. You’ll find that more often than not, they’ll perform more than admirably.
Do: Treat them as equals
The best teams are ones that treat each other as equals regardless of age, experience, or job title. They understand that every team member, from the youngest and least experienced to the oldest and wisest, brings a different skillset to the table and has something of value to provide, whether that’s a fresh idea or alternative perspective. Treat your younger manager as an equal and you’ll receive the same treatment in return. That behavior will foster an equitable and collaborative environment, and you’ll all get better quality work done.
Don’t: Overplay your experience
It may feel natural and normal for you to use your years of experience as a solid standing ground in an argument or disagreement with your manager. But don’t over-rely on what you did in your last team and what worked with your previous managers when you interact with a younger manager. Even if it’s their first time handling a specific type of project and you have dozens of them under your belt, that’s no excuse to assume they have no idea what they’re doing and you have the right answers. Instead, provide alternatives to the way they want to do things based on your past work, but always understand, accept, and execute on the decisions they make, even if they don’t align with what you know. Sometimes, doing things differently can lead to better results faster.
Do: Befriend them
You may be older but that’s no excuse not to have a good, amicable, and friendly relationship with your manager. Go to lunch with them, chat about life outside of work, and get to know the person behind the title. It’s crucial to having a strong working relationship that you get along with them, and their youth shouldn’t deter you from making a friend. It will be easier to diffuse tense situations, you’ll get along better, and you’ll understand what makes each other tick, which is an invaluable thing to know in any professional relationship.
Don’t: Avoid learning from them
Everyone can learn from someone else, no matter how much more experience they may have. Take advantage of the fact that your experience is being challenged by a young upstart that you report to at work. As we said before, they got to where they are for a reason. Learn that reason. Learn from their successes and share your own. A job is not only meant to provide you with a source of income, and it’s not only supposed to provide an employer with your labor. It’s supposed to be an opportunity for you to grow professionally alongside other talented individuals.
Take the time to learn from your young manager. You’ll find that they probably have a different but highly effective way of doing things, and you can even learn something you can implement in your own career. And you’ll also find that understanding how they got to where they are will drive you to go above and beyond in your career efforts.