Herbert Hoover had just entered the White House when I began my career as a 22-year-old junior account executive at the world's most prestigious public relations firm. The average employee was a crusty 55-year old former newspaper editor who had covered every war since Rome took on Carthage. And, I had to manage several of them on a mega account.
It was heady stuff, but to say I was ill-equipped to motivate, much less direct, these world-class ex-journos is like saying Britney Spears was ready for stardom.
But I learned a lot about dealing with older, more seasoned professionals and here are my tips:
1. Study, and understand, each one's working style. (One guy was completely useless after his three-martini lunch.)
2. Respect their decades of knowing how to do things the right way.
3. Look for opportunities to establish your credibility by telling them things about the fast-changing zeitgeist they'd slept through.
But that was then and this is now. So I turned to three young executives of today for their tips.
I started with two 25-year-old Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who, from an actuarial standpoint, have little choice but to manage an older workforce.
Andrew Chaifetz is the 25 year-old founder of NoteBowl, a social learning platform for higher education. Andrew offered these tips:
4. Don't let nonverbals from an older adviser, venture capitalist, or sales director rattle you. They might see you as a kid, but they wouldn't be meeting with you if they didn't seriously respect the business model you've created.
5. Make sure older employees share your vision and passion for what you're asking them to help you build. Otherwise, it won't work.
6. Defuse an older worker's skepticism with quick examples of success, especially if you've accomplished something in tandem, such as closing a big sale.
Keith Ryu, creator of Onboard IQ, a hiring automation platform is also a quarter century old.
Here are his tips:
7. If an older worker can't think and act quickly, part ways, and do it fast.
8. Be open to mixing and matching the older worker's traditional and proven formulas to your startup's approach. That can be a true win-win, especially in Keith's case where OnBoard IQ is expanding its customer base to reach the more traditional retail space and needs older salespeople who 'get' the buyer's mindset.
9. Build consensus. Sit down with the older CIO or senior HR person and arrive at an agreed-upon strategy that will motivate him or her and allow you to focus on what you do best: thinking about what's next.
Ted Birkhahn was 36 when he was named president of Peppercomm, my 100-person agency, and began managing multiple, older executives. His tips:
10. Ask them questions and show a genuine interest in their lives.
11. Understand what motivates them and what their passion in life is.
12. Create opportunities that only they can own based on their relevant experience and/or skill set.
When I was the youngest guy in the room, I somehow figured out how to be accepted as a peer by older, seasoned management. Maybe if I'd had tips and guidelines from such young superstars as Andrew, Keith, and Ted, my hair wouldn't have started turning grey at 28.