Being a 20 something leader is a tough space. You’re still finding your feet, and most professional situations are new to you. But, what can make it really tough is if your team members are bothered by your age.This happened to me and will continue to happen for a while in my career.
The concern usually stems from an old way of thinking. The 2 reasons I have run into, are that I am either not good enough at the front line job (what my employees do) or I simply have not put in enough time to be a supervisor (my age).
These are inevitable because it’s a culture shift that’s happening before our eyes. Employers are starting to realize that a supervisor is an entirely different job from a front line position. Just because they are really good at one job does not mean they will be good in another.
To be a good supervisor, you do not need to be the best or the smartest. You just have to be an exceptional leader. You can start by building a relationship with your people. Below are a few tips that have helped me through these tough moments.
Be Honest About your Situation
Own the fact that you are young. When I started coaching my older and more experienced employees, I fessed up to it. It’s important to be who you are. They will see right through you if you pretend and you will lose respect.
Come at it with full transparency. Say something like, “I know that I have a lot to learn at this position, but I think working closely with you could accelerate my progress.” This not only shows a side vulnerability, but it will build the relationship. They have quickly become almost a mentor to their boss. It’s hard for someone to refuse someone who needs help especially when it’s the leader of their team. The only thing to keep in mind is that it must be authentic. As a Millennial, you have a lot to learn from your older employees so when they agree to help, be a sponge. Absorb as much as you can from them. Not only will that help build the coaching relationship, but it will also help you be a better you.
Be Clear About your Role
Let them know you are the coach but make sure to let them know why. You are there not to squeeze work out of them. Always assume that’s a fear. Assure them that you are there to put them in a position to be successful. Go ahead and make that promise and hold yourself to be accountable. As your team sees you living it, they will be more receptive to your coaching and will respect your advice.
Being up front also allows for you to go straight into coaching instead of beating around the bush. Because I chose to be clear on my role as their coach, I can now say “I have a bit of coaching for you” when I have some immediate feedback. When I say that, my team knows whats coming. This is so powerful because it eliminates a lot of unnecessary conflict, especially when they know you are just looking out for their best interest.
Call the Behavior Out
If you believe that you are not being taken seriously by one of your employees talk with them. Not too long ago I had to have a crucial conversation with one of my employees. He didn’t respect me because I knew less about programming than him yet I was responsible for his performance review. At a one on one, I simply called him out on it. By saying “I get the sense that you don’t respect me,” we were able to turn a troubled relationship into a productive one. We spent 2 hours talking about frustrations and expectations for one another. By the end of the meeting, this individual thanked me for the convo. We have had an extremely positive relationship ever since. If there is a barrier between you and a team member, throw it on the table. Do not avoid it.
This takes time. If you are doing the points above, you are already working towards a trusting relationship. To achieve trust, i first start by trusting them completely. Someone needs to leap and it should be the leader. This means that I will start with the assumption that they always have the best intention. If they mess something up, I think, “did they have everything they needed to be successful?” If they get a customer complaint, I ask their side of the story before jumping to conclusions.
Make sure to be transparent about this. If it happens that they were in the fault somewhere along the lines, if they see you give them the benefit of the doubt, they will try not to let you down in the future. The very act of showing trust causes others to naturally mirror it. Trust your people, and they will return the favor.
If you are struggling in this area, I would recommend trying these tips out. These few steps have helped me build a team that fully trusts me. They would agree that I have earned the position I am in, and the initial judgments have completely subsided. My team is awesome!
If you have run into anything similar or would like to share someone else’s experience, please leave them in the comments below. Thanks!
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