Women

Being a young boss has its pitfalls. Stay calm and rational to avoid them.

Description: What’s Age Got To Do With It?

What’s Age Got To Do With It?

I know about the way things were done. This is how things need to be done now.” An angry phrase that can pop up in any work environment, anywhere in the world. Being a team leader has its rewards and challenges. Being a young team leader, when you have to oversee colleagues who are older and have been in the field longer, is often rather more challenging.

A little clarification here. In a truly professional environment, the time one has spent on this planet is really not a factor. Age does not necessarily make anyone wiser or more proficient; youth does not always deserve the label ‘greenhorn’. But in India, where age always expects deference, youth – or relative youth – can find it hard to establish leadership on the basis on intelligence and efficiency. As a younger team leader, you may have to deal with unstated condescension from your older team members. Your mantra should be ‘stay calm’. Get riled and you lose your turf. Instead of flying off the handle, explain coolly and firmly why your opinion will prevail in a particular situation, though suggestions are fine.

Description: Being a young boss has its pitfalls

Being a young boss has its pitfalls

Aside from a direct face-off with an older colleague, you may have to step into a dispute between a veteran and a new recruit. Both will expect your support, and unless you balance it well, you will either deeply offend one or demoralise the other. Most importantly, you cannot disappear from the scene or pretend to be caught up in work till things fizzle out. Nor can you just yell, “Stop this!” and walk off in a huff. That is not being a team leader. In such a situation, be extremely careful not to play favourites – there must be a clear rationale to what you say and do to settle the dispute, and explain that rationale to the warring teammates, preferably in the same room or in the same e-mail. Essentially, if you do deal with your team in terms of age, it could be discriminatory.

In my organisation, discrimination on the grounds of age is unacceptable. Young people cannot be excluded from growth opportunities, and older staff cannot be left out in a ‘youthful’ atmosphere. From experience, I have found that there is no difference in dealing with people of varying ages. You cannot be more – or less – professional with someone just because they are older or younger. That applies to bonding outside the office. A movie after work with my younger colleagues has been as much fun as lunch and shopping with an older teammate.

When friction occurs, the cause is not age, but temperament. Take a case where a young person has to oversee the work of a much older team member. The older person may ignore the direct superviser and take everything to the superviser’s superviser – you. A showdown is inevitable, but that will produce no result. You, the young senior manager, have put a younger person in charge of a project for a good reason. Ask the older colleague to respect that reason; in turn, you will gain respect yourself, too.

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