You've worked hard to climb the corporate ladder or to start a company of your own. Now that work has paid off, and you've become the boss. There's only one problem: Most of the employees who report to you are a lot older than you are. How do you assert your authority over people who may be old enough to be your parents?
That's a question facing more and more millennial-aged bosses these days, according to Todd Berger, president and CEO of Chicago-based Redwood Logistics. He would know-at 31, he's the youngest person in the company's leadership. There are many factors that can prevent a more mature employee from taking direction from a younger one, beginning with a bruised ego, Berger says. If the younger person is new to the management role, that can make things even more awkward. But there are things you can do to strengthen that relationship.
Here are three of the most useful:
1. Be open to their ideas and opinions.
"If you're willing to listen to them, they'll be willing to listen to you," Berger says. On the other hand, a leader who shoots down every suggestion or comment will quickly lose the respect of middle-aged and older employees, especially if they've been on the job longer than you have.
2. Don't change too much too soon.
"Leaders have to compromise," Berger says. "They need to understand the team dynamic and how they work and why they do things a certain way before they make changes."
Which is why you should be slow, not fast, to make big changes. "Start by listening, watching, observing, and asking questions," Berger says. "If a certain practice th team did worked really well, integrate it into the new process and explain why you think it will help."
3. Make a personal connection.
You have hobbies and interests, books, movies, and activities you like. So do they. "Find something in common and talk about that," Berger advises. "It can be anything-just make the connection and make it early on. Show them you care about them on a professional and personal level and that you are human, too."
4. Commit to their success.
Here's one reason baby boomers are sometimes hostile to new millennial managers: they're expecting to be replaced with younger employees as a matter of course. "If this isn't true, put this myth to bed immediately," Berger advises.
This is one case where it's really crucial to back up your words with actions that demonstrate your investment in your staff's development. You can show that interest by offering them the opportunity to take courses, or meeting regularly to discuss projects and feedback, Berger says. Make sure they understand they have a long fruitful future awaiting them at your company, if they want it.
5. Ask for their advice.
Far from making you look weak, asking your older reports how they would handle a project or situation will make it very clear that you value them and their experience. "It will show you trust their insights," Berger says. And by offering them your trust, you'll gain their trust in return.