Many IT managers are facing a somewhat new situation in which they work for bosses who are significantly younger than they are. This can seem, at first, like a daunting prospect and a blow to their egos, especially for tenured professionals who’ve served as managers and mentors and who have been recognized as proven leaders. But this new, younger face of IT upper management isn’t that far removed from the traditions of the past. In the end, the boss is still the boss.

Just ask the many TechRepublic members who wrote in after a recent call for feedback on this topic. According to our members, this new age differential in the IT management arena shouldn’t be automatically viewed as a potential career hurdle. In fact, it could end up being an unexpected benefit—as long as you follow the golden rule.

It’s all about respect
For 44-year-old Charles, a software development engineer in the UK who works for a line manager nearly 20 years his junior, the key to success was showing the younger manager respect from the start.

“I found that the most important thing is to reassure younger managers that you are not going to undermine them,” said Charles. Team meetings offer the perfect time to show your respect and support of your younger boss. “This indicates to the younger team members, who may have respect for age and experience, that the authority of the line manager’s position is recognized,” he explained.

After all, he said, his job involves following his line manager’s lead. “Younger team members don’t always recognize this, so it pays to set the example. I have never found it necessary to ingratiate myself with a boss, but showing respect for the position does have a positive effect.”

Feel secure in your role
Respect is also what fellow TechRepublic member Chris focuses on when he faces the age differential. In his early 50s, the senior network specialist credits showing respect as the main reason he’s never had a problem working with younger bosses.

“I approach the situation from the standpoint that my experience can help [younger bosses] be successful in their new role. I can give them insight into the organization and its procedures. I can help them deal with difficult clients and I can help them manage the organization they’ve just taken over,” he said. Chris said he does all that by sharing his experiences in a positive manner, “with the idea that they can learn from my mistakes or avoid a course of action that I know has failed in the past.”

While some older IT professionals can easily feel threatened or worried that they’ll be passed over by a younger manager due to their age, Chris said he’s never experienced those feelings and that’s partly because of a career decision he made.

“I have been in supervisory roles before and discovered that I preferred the role of technical professional. As a result, I don’t feel threatened or passed over when a management role is given to someone else,” he said.

Feeling confident in your abilities and your chosen IT role is important for anyone, regardless of age, in the IT arena. That confidence will help IT managers to work with—and not against—a boss that is substantially younger.

Chris also recommends that older staffers establish their role, and value, at the start of a new job.

“I tell [younger bosses] that I’m there to help, because I’m certain the new boss is concerned about how he/she will be received,” he said. This conversation is also important to answering potential management concerns about whether they can count on your support and that you’re open to new ideas. “I believe it clears the air if I let them know of my support up front,” he said, adding that it’s all tied to a well-known ”golden rule.”

“If I treat others with respect, I usually receive the same from them. Believe it or not, it’s almost that simple!”

There are bigger issues than age
TechRepublicmember Chainarong doesn’t care how old or young his boss is, as long as he or she has managerial skills and knows how to organize, lead, and control a department.

“Age is not an issue in my work. [My boss] must be able to lead us to accomplish the company goal,” said Chainarong, otherwise he or she wouldn’t have the job in the first place.

“I have found the personal quality and competence of the boss is vastly more important than the age of the boss,” agreed Dennis.

“It’s a simple rule: Don’t look at the age, but at the capabilities the person brings. It works both ways,” KL concurred.

Tom Harris, a manager of customer service technology, puts the age issue to rest with this comment:

“What’s to deal with? Age does not even enter the equation. If he or she is a competent manager, then you work with him or her like you would any other competent manager. If he or she is not competent, then he or she will not be long for the position and then you can work with his or her successor. Age is not a measure of ability.”