Supporting Younger Managers to Effectively Lead Experienced Employees

Image: Supporting Younger Managers to Effectively Lead Experienced Employees

In the past few weeks I have had several conversations with clients regarding how to support and assist their youngest managers in effectively leading their more senior employees, both in experience and age.  This is such a hot button issue that we dedicated a chapter to this topic in our book Upgrade Now: 9 Advanced Leadership Skills.

How Experienced Employees can Feel

Often, there is a lot of emotion tied up in situations where younger managers have responsibilities earlier in their careers than the people who report to them.  Experienced employees can experience a range of feelings in these situations, including:

  • Frustration that they have more ‘life / work experience’ than their boss
  • Envy that promotional opportunities were provided to younger managers
  • Disappointment with their own career development
  • Respect for their managers’ competency and skills
  • Motivation to progress in their career
  • Enthusiasm to be working for a dynamic leader

Challenges that Younger Leaders can Face

We support and coach younger leaders to recognize generational differences when leading more experienced team members to ensure they can increase engagement and performance levels. No one generation are naturally good leaders.  All of us require support and help to become strong people leaders.  However, there are some unique challenges that younger leaders face.  These include:

  • Building rapport with experienced employees
  • Demonstrating competency to “prove” they can do the job
  • Gaining the trust of experienced employees
  • Balancing a desire for change with respect for “the way it has always been done”
  • Maintaining one’s position in the face of resistance

Generational Differences That May Come Into Play

The are 5 fundamental generational differences that are important for younger manager to recognize in order to be most effective.  They are:

  1. Work styles
    • While younger employees want a flexible and fluid work style, often more experienced employees will expect and desire their leader to provide guidance on how and when work should be completed.  When leading a multigenerational team, managers need to harmonize work style preferences and create a work environment that supports experienced employees’ needs.
  1. Communication
    • While younger managers may be happy to instant message, email or text employees throughout the day, this won’t necessarily be perceived by experienced employees as formal, professional or appropriate in all situations.  Baby Boomers or Traditionalists minded employees seek more face to face communication and expect that their leader will engage them in meetings, often with consensus building as the goal. Younger leaders often alienate experienced employees by relying too heavily on technology to communicate and not providing enough opportunities for direct conversations.
  1. Risk tolerance
    • Risk tolerance can be quite different across the generations due to ones’ exposure to rapid changes and distributive technologies.  Not surprisingly, younger generations tend to be less risk adverse and are more comfortable launching a ‘beta’ version of project.  While experienced employees may expect that projects are perfect before they go live and might question their leader’s choices if they aren’t clear about how risks have been evaluated and calculated in advance.  Younger manager should discuss their risk tolerance and communicate how experienced employees will be supported and encouraged to take more calculated risks.
  1. Respect
    • In many organizations respect is still bestowed on leaders based on title, tenure and experience rather than competencies and skills. Younger employees and especially younger managers expect that the results they deliver will speak for themselves and that they will be respected for what they do, not who they know. When leading more experienced employees it is important for managers to acknowledge the experience of their team members, validate their expertise and gain respect by being a high performer.
  1. Time
    • The concept of time is tied to work styles.  The amount of ‘face time’ that employees believe is required to be successful may differ substantially from a Baby Boomer to a Gen Y.  How time is spent at the office – meetings vs. casual collaborative discussions vs. networking can differ. Core office hours may also be interpreted differently, are they fixed all week / year long? Do they apply to every role?  These types of questions are important for younger managers to discuss with their teams and ensure they are clear about face time expectations and when employees can ‘disconnect’ fully from their work.


Giselle Kovary

As president and co-founder of n-gen People Performance Inc., Giselle is dedicated to building strategies and programs that target, motivate and engage a multigenerational workforce. She is a sought after resource to industry leaders, having worked with 18 of the top Fortune 500 companies. Over 60,000 people globally have experienced an n-gen workshop or presentation. She has devoted more than fifteen years to researching the impact that generational differences have on organizational performance. Giselle has co-authored two books: Loyalty Unplugged: How to Get, Keep & Grow All Four Generations and Upgrade Now: 9 Advanced Leadership Skills. She has a Master’s degree in communication studies from the University of Windsor.

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