Thanks to a combination of hard work and lots of self development and learning, your boss has recognised your talent and rewarded you with a big promotion. Time to celebrate? Not quite. The management are happy – they’ve snared themselves a talented, motivated individual who can help take the company forward.
But what about your team? The people you’re now in charge of? How do they feel about being managed by someone ten or even 20 years their junior? And how do you successfully steer a team that quite possibly contains people the same age as your parents through the highs and lows of business?
First and foremost, shake the label
You’re not a young leader, prodigy, boy/girl wonder or any other of the condescending tags that have been bestowed on you. You’ve been promoted to a position of authority because you’re the best person for the job, and being defined by your age is just as insulting as being defined by your gender, race, disability status, country of birth or any other number of qualifiers. Say it with me: "I did not jump the queue. I did not jump the queue. I did not jump the queue…" Make this your mantra and challenge any negative thinking – yours and other people’s. Promotion comes through ability, not entitlement; no one gets to the top simply by staying put. You’re a capable professional with a wealth of experience, fresh ideas and a job to do.
Rethink your brand
Building a brand around your age will always be temporary, no matter how successful – just ask Macaulay Culkin. Your ideas, management style, leadership qualities and the way you conduct relationships are an integral part of who you are – your age isn’t. If people have a problem with your age, that problem is theirs to own. They’re discriminating, and there are official channels for dealing with discrimination in the workplace. If they challenge your ideas or your decisions, you can deal with them appropriately, as any good manager would. Have confidence in your abilities, and others will too.
Listen and learn
Don't be afraid to ask your team what they want from you as a leader – no-one ever got offended by being asked for their opinion. You’ve reached this position because you have a particular set of skills, and each member of your team brings their own specialism. Respect those skills, value their contributions and consider their advice carefully. You don’t have to take it – there’s a reason you’re in charge. But if you show a willingness to listen, to learn and to value the experience of others, you’ll gain the respect you deserve.
Take care of you
A coach can be a great support to a new leader; they can help you to develop your leadership style and build resilience. We all have our strengths and weaknesses and there’s never a limit to how much we can learn; a trusted mentor can help us identify how we can improve. They can also provide a safe space for you to confidentially share your hopes and fears, as well as offload your stress to keep it at a manageable level. Listening to other people’s problems is part and parcel of being a leader and, regardless of age or experience, negativity can build up and become unhealthy. An impartial confidante can help you to develop personally and professionally.
Be the solution, not the problem
However empathic a leader you are, there will be people around you who think your promotion is their direct loss. Show them you are on their side and are equally ambitious for their progression by helping them to get noticed and appreciated. A team of individuals with personal goals to achieve and be rewarded for is much more likely to be happy and productive than a group of people who feel bitter at being passed over or ignored. Could they benefit from training? Do they have personal ambitions? How can you help them to achieve their goals? Of course, the ambitions of some people may be entirely unrealistic, and their ire unfairly directed at you. As an effective leader, you can help people to realise their potential without constantly setting themselves up for failure. Make it clear that you have lots to learn from them – not because of your age, but because you value their skills and experience and want to put them to their best use.
Susy Roberts is founder of people development consultancy Hunter Roberts