Working for a younger boss - while becoming more common in today's multigenerational workforces - tends to go against certain basic social and psychological norms most of us are used to.
A September 2016 study in the Journal of Organizational Behavior found that most workers at firms with managers younger than themselves reported more negative emotions, such as anger and fear, than those with older managers. Obviously, there are a couple ways to approach this such as suppressing those emotions or expressing them - both having positive or negative consequences depending on the approach.
We can easily take a page from the military's playbook to gain some insight into how these working relationships can in fact be very productive when both parties act with maturity and the team's best interests in mind.
As a former Navy SEAL, I have seen this in every single SEAL platoon I have been a part of or worked alongside. A young lieutenant for example, will be the acting platoon commander while his senior enlisted advisors - direct reports under him - are generally older and ALWAYS more experienced. Simply based on the fact that they have been in the Teams longer.
As an entrepreneur, I have also had direct reports that were significantly older than me, and I'll admit, it took some getting used to. For both of us. At one particular awards ceremony and conference, he got so intoxicated that a guy he had just met had to call my cell phone to come get him back to his room!
My point is that age doesn't always translate to maturity and professionalism. But at the same time, a younger manager that has been promoted through the ranks based on technical skill and subject matter expertise isn't necessarily going to have the proper leadership and management skills for that role either.
Here are a few tips from my time in the SEAL Teams and in my own companies.
I mentioned that last point in particular because of how critical trust is to any company's financial health and overall team performance. In chapter 2 of my new book, TakingPoint: A Navy SEAL's 10 Fail-Safe Principles for Leading Through Change, I dive deep into the importance of trust, especially for organizations facing change - which is pretty much all of them these days!
As my last company grew and faced all kinds of "growth challenges" we continued to promote from within while also bringing in more senior talent from outside the company. This is a simple fact of life for many entrepreneurs - a large portion of your workforce will be older than you. At least that was the case for me. And I asked for their advice regularly.
Regardless of the age gap, trust is imperative for any working relationship to be successful and for any team to achieve mission success. We talk a lot about the challenges of managing today's "younger workforce" - but sometimes that younger workforce will be managing us.
And those managers will either be effective leaders or ineffective leaders - regardless of age.