Younger managers leading older employees can be awkward for everyone. Grayer heads can view youthful bosses as inexperienced, insensitive to the complications of later life, or entitled by a golden child upbringing. Meanwhile, newbie managers can feel unfairly judged for their lack of experience or struggle with imposter syndrome despite their skills.

But the difficulties of the dynamic aside, if you have an exceptional young person you're thinking of promoting (or -- lucky you! -- you are a soon to be promoted 20-something), you might just want to go ahead and give him or her a chance to lead. Despite their youth -- or even maybe because of it -- they just might turn out to be among your best leaders, new research suggests.

The study done by consultancy Zenger/ Folkman looked at a huge database of 360-degree reviews compiled by the company, comparing those of managers over 45 (a dataset of 4.298 managers) and under 30 (455 managers). What they found surprised them.

"When we looked at the 360 data of the younger and more seasoned managers we found the younger group was rated more positively on every one of the 49 items," Zwenger/ Folkman president Joseph Folkman reports in a Forbes article. "This is both surprising and excellent news that indicates there are talented young leaders in our organizations who will be capable of stepping into key roles."

Part of the superior performance of young managers is no doubt down to who is promoted into these roles. If you make management before your 30th birthday, you're no doubt an exceptionally talented individual, but the study also isolated six other factors that tend to make younger managers so successful.

1. They welcome change.

"The younger leaders embraced change and exhibited great skills at marketing their new ideas. They have the courage to make difficult changes, possibly because their lack of experience causes them to be more optimistic about their proposals for change. They are more willing than their elders to be the champions of change," the consultancy's president and CEO explain in a HBR writeup of their study results.

2. They're inspiring.

"Younger leaders knew how to get others energized and excited about accomplishing objectives," claims Folkman in Forbes. "Their older colleagues tended to more often lead with 'push' while they lead with 'pull.'"

3. They're receptive to feedback.

Compared to older managers, young leaders are more open to feedback. "They ask for feedback about their performance more often and seek ways to digest and implement the feedback," says the HBR article.

4. They're always looking to improve things.

"It may be the result of the fact that they have less invested in the past, but the younger leaders were more willing to challenge the status quo," writes Folkman.

5. They're focused on results.

Unsurprisingly, the young managers Zenger/Folkman looked at had all the get-up-and-go we usually associate with youth. In short there was no shortage of energy among the younger cohort to devote to reaching their aims. "In contrast, when someone has been in an organization for a long period of time, it is easy to become complacent and to see the status quo as sufficient," comments the HBR writeup.

6. They set stretch goals.

This one may be a byproduct of number five above, but the study found younger leaders were more likely to set ambitious goals compared to seasoned managers who may have learned the trick of setting more modest targets to avoid disappointment and lessen the load on their team.

Does your experience of young managers mesh with the portrait painted by this research?

Published on: Oct 19, 2015