According to Forbes, by 2020 Millennials will become the largest part of the global workforce. With 10,000 Baby Boomers retiring daily, young generations are taking on more leadership roles. It brings both a great opportunity and a tough challenge – unfortunately, the newly appointed young managers often face prejudice and need to establish their leadership, prove themselves as competent and, of course, gain the respect of other employees, especially the older ones. This is not always easy to achieve: a couple of years ago, Harvard Business Review uncovered some common negative perceptions that younger leaders are getting, which included “lacking strategic perspective” and “being insensitive to others’ needs”. The good news is that you can successfully meet these challenges.
Here are some tips on how to gain respect and win over your older employees’ scepticism:
- Be well-prepared from the start and show your mastery of the role
Being a strong leader is both about having the right competence and showing it, especially when you are under 35. Learn the ins and outs of your role, the peculiarities of your team, the industry dynamics. Knowing the context and applying your skills to it will make people trust your expertise and believe that you have done your homework. Constantly work on practical skills, never cease learning – it will give you a leg up in conversations, feedback sessions, performance coaching, and strategic planning.
- Set the rules and be the first the one to follow them through
No respect can be gained if there is a lack of rules or if work relations are based solely on friendliness. It is of great importance to establish certain boundaries in terms of your professional relationships with colleagues. Your team should have a clear vision of what you expect from them, what is allowed, and when the line is crossed. As a leader, set specific codes of behaviour, performance norms – and, surely, be the first one to follow all of them.
- Have a genuine interest in your team members’ wellbeing
There is no better way of connecting with people than showing them how much you care about their interests. One of your priorities is to assure that everyone in your team works in comfortable and stimulating conditions that push them towards a successful performance. This does not imply being a pushover or agreeing with all personal requests. But you should be genuinely interested in your team emotional stability: always find time to be available, listen carefully, be patient, empathetic and helpful.
- Learn to excel in giving feedback, disregarding the age difference
Providing feedback to older colleagues can be uncomfortable at first, but the process is inevitable – otherwise, your people won’t grow professionally and will have no respect for your opinion. Be brave enough to deliver negative feedback to more experienced employees if their performance is not satisfactory. Work on creating a culture that promotes candid feedback on all hierarchy levels, solicit it from your team. As Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE, once said in an interview, “you reinforce the behaviours that you reward. If you reward candour, you’ll get it.”
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