I am the oldest in my company and I am all of 39 years. Though I am the envy of a lot of my friends and colleagues, I must confess that working with a young employee is easy. On the contrary, heading a team of people where you are the youngest, is one of the greatest challenges of today’s times.
While it is true that older employees bring in experience and security, one can’t ignore the big glaring gap and disconnect in terms of technology, communication and changing business norms initiated by the young generation of professionals. The trouble starts when the older employee finds himself reporting to a boss who probably entered kindergarten when he graduated college. I see a lot of young bosses intimidated by the age of their juniors, who are actually elder to them. This disconnect is evident in the inhibited communication and consequential lowered results in performance in a team where the elders are led by younger bosses.
How does one then span the chasm that bares open the cultural protocol of ‘obey your elders’ and ‘experience is important for success? How does the boss establish his/her position of earned power without offending the seniority of those who have been around longer than him/her? How does one handle errors on part of those with experience without humiliating them for being reprimanded by a boss who is far younger? How does one empower and encourage those to whom one actually looks up to by sheer virtue of age?
For the young daring professional who steps up to stand above the toughened and experienced subordinate, leading him and the organisation where the futures of both are safe—consider these tips.
Review skills and knowledge regularly to address the gap
There has been a general acceptance that experience adds value in decision-making. However, with the current economy being so unpredictable, new and unforeseen developments occur almost everyday. Knowledge then gets priority over experience. Hence, the emphasis should be on constant upgradation of knowledge.
Encourage the elder subordinates to adorn their experience by keeping themselves abreast with technological developments and global viewpoints on business and social trends.
Sensitise the elders towards technology by educating them on how it would help them save time, minimise errors and connect them virtually making work easier. I see an inherent keenness on the part of the elder employees to learn new things so that they feel assimilated and get a sense of belonging. When your interest in filling them in with ‘what’s new’ is expressed, they speedily catch on.
Maintain courtesy in all interactions with the employee
Our culture lays a lot of emphasis on respect for the elders. Whether junior or senior, social protocol states, elders must be dealt with respect and courtesy. No matter what the flavour of the day, maintain a good demeanour towards the elders who work for you. Respect should be reciprocal. As much as they deserve to be respected you can only earn your respect by giving it to them first. Sometimes young bosses fear that respect shown may be misconstrued as being submissive. Giving respect does not mean giving in. Giving respect is also a part of being professional.
Elders take well to junior bosses when they are dealt with respect, because it gives them a hope of a promising future for their children. They feel that if you have made it so far and so big, so could their children.
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