Enterprise Software

Earn the respect of older staff by managing effectively

Young IT managers can easily derail their careers if they don't prevent the resentment and jealousy of older subordinates from impacting team performance. Here are tips on how best to approach this management issue.


Directing a team of seasoned IT pros requires strong interpersonal and leadership skills. And, if you happen to be much younger than your staff, the management road can be especially tricky to traverse. Because of this potential career hurdle, you must take the right approach from the start.

As career and management experts explain, younger bosses often have to work harder in defining their roles and developing a smooth management style; because of their age, they don't automatically win respect. Here are some expert tips on presenting the right attitude and determining the personalities of your staff members so that you can manage more effectively.

It’s a matter of attitude
As a younger boss, your success often depends on making sure you have the right attitude. “Whichever side of the coin you’re on, the key is attitude,” said Stan Mann, president and founder of Livonia, MI-based Solution Coaching and Training. “And the number-one attitude is respect—respect for an older employee’s experience and respect for the younger boss’s training and ability to rise so quickly.”

Mann cautions that young bosses have to be on guard against feeling threatened by an older team member’s experience. “Experience can be a valuable resource for both parties,” said Mann.

Rooney Russell, a senior consultant for Wellesley, MA-based Praendex Inc., suggests that young bosses seek out mentors within the company who have extensive managerial experience. “Find out how they solved people problems in the past and partner with them,” advised Russell.

Many young bosses often don’t have the leisure to gradually develop a rapport with their underlings. Yet results are expected quickly, and the subtleties of relationship-building sometimes get short shrift in the process. To achieve desired business results, you need to be able to predict how your staff will act in the workplace, said Russell. This understanding is critical in three major areas:
  • How you communicate with each member of your staff
  • How you delegate responsibility to each member
  • How you facilitate decision-making within the department

Strong communication is necessary
“If you want your staff to really hear what you’re saying and to buy into your vision, you need to adapt your communication style to the personalities of each person reporting to you,” explained Russell.

One way to do that is to employ observation and personality assessment tools that measure the work-related behaviors and motivating needs of people in your organization, said Russell. The tools can help you discover just who it is that you’re managing and how their communication style differs from yours.

“The value of a knowledge tool is that it can very quickly help you understand the personality patterns of your staff and how those patterns will impact business results.”

For instance, a manager who tends to be a fast-paced risk-taker needs to be aware if staff members have risk-adverse personalities. When communicating with them, a manager needs to speak to their more cautious nature, providing sufficient detail to assuage their concern about possible failure.

Delegating responsibility is a must
When assigning tasks, the young manager has to know whether the task suits the strengths of the individual, said Russell. Before delegating the minutia to a staff member, the manager needs to know whether the staff member is someone who thrives on detail and can spend long hours focusing on the particulars—like analytical data in an Excel spreadsheet—with the necessary thoroughness required.

Conversely, if the young manager who exhibits a control-pattern personality—someone who wants things done just so—delegates a project to someone with a more laissez-faire attitude, problems can arise. The employee may tend to trust his or her own instincts rather than rely on extensive data. This type of personality would be quick to reassure the boss that everything was covered and not to worry. But if things went wrong, the trust between manager and employee might be damaged forever.

“Knowing whether the person you’ve delegated responsibility to is a risk-taking personality is key,” said Russell. “As a control-type manager, you’d then know to ask a few more questions, dig a little deeper to make sure that the employee has done his homework before trusting that he’s considered all the nuances and ramifications the task entails.”

Fostering timely decision-making
If a young manager seeking quick results is overseeing people who are risk adverse, there’s apt to be conflict. Russell describes risk-adverse people as those who need a great deal of data to make a decision, hate to be wrong, and can’t stand to be blamed if something goes amiss. It often takes this type of personality a long time to make a decision.

To prevent such personalities from going into decision avoidance, a manager must give them enough information to bolster their confidence in the decisions they’re being asked to make. “You’ve also got to realize that some decisions are going to take longer than others,” explained Russell. “And browbeating these people is not going to get the decision made any faster.”

Russell also recommends that the young manager take great pains to assure the staff that he or she will take ultimate responsibility for the staff's decisions.

Bridging the generation gap
“Younger managers need to be aware of the age-based cultural differences and speak to them,” said Robert Norton, founder, COO, and executive VP of Westwood, MA-based StrategIT, an IT infrastructure consultancy.

He said the “Jolt-drinking, futon-sleeping crowd” sometimes doesn’t understand why everybody who works for them doesn’t exhibit the same high energy and excitement about their careers and future. The willingness to stay extremely late to solve a particular problem is sometimes tempered by the age of the employee.

“Whether it’s because they have a family life with children at home or they’re simply tired of working 70 or 80 hours a week,” said Norton, “maintaining enthusiasm as you become more seasoned gets harder.” From his observations, young people often believe they have to put in the long hours to be successful.

Career and management consultants agree that, for young managers, it takes hard work to achieve mutual respect and open communication, but success will certainly pay off and prove beneficial in future career moves.

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