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Working For A Younger Boss

Basic tips to make it a positive experience for both of you

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At some point in your career, you will probably end up working for a boss who is significantly younger than you are. Here are eight things you can do to make working for a younger boss a positive experience for both of you.

Respect Reality

He/she is your boss. Whether you like it or not, the facts are the facts. If you don’t like the fact that this person is your boss, you have two choices: get over it or get out.

Learn from this new situation. Your boss got this job because his/her boss felt they had the necessary talent to handle the job the way that person wanted it done. You need to figure out what skills your boss has that are stronger than you own that you can learn from. Is he a better networker? Is she better at prioritizing conflicting demands for resources?

At the same time, figure out where you new boss is weaker. This is not so you can undermine them, but so that you’ll know where you can be a valuable resource to them.

Outproduce Everyone

You have the smarts and the experience to produce more and better work than others. Don’t flaunt it. Don’t talk about it. Just go out and do it. And be very sure you don’t talk about how good you are and then fail to deliver.

Make The Team Work

You need to figure out how you and your boss can work together as a team. As the older person, it’s probably up to you to take the first step here. A good first step is finding out how your boss prefers to communicate and then adjusting to that style, rather than expecting your boss to change to accommodate yours. Does your boss like face-to-face chats or does he prefer texting? Would she rather you called or sent email?

What about working hours? Do you like to work start work right at 8AM and head for home at 5PM? Does your boss wander in sometime between 9-11 AM, but work well past dinner time? You will need to openly discuss the differences and come to an agreement.

Over Communicate

You don’t want your boss guessing what you’re up to. He/she may imagine the worst; like that you spend all day plotting how to overthrow the boss. Let your boss know what you’re working on, what you’ve accomplished, and how you are actively supporting his/her agenda.

One very senior Product Manager I know used to schedule “impromptu” meetings with his much younger boss. These meetings would block out his time so no one else could schedule anything for him and they would pop up as reminders. He would then “wander down the hall” past his boss’s office and stick his head in “just to see how things are going”. It saved the boss having to call him in to ask about something. It became a sort of “since you’re here, let me ask you about…” conversation.

Be A Resource

You have a lot of experience and knowledge. You want to make that available to your boss, but do it right. Don’t push it on him/her – “you ought to do it this way because”. Instead, let your boss ask for it. You will be ready to supply the information, and as much explanation and additional detail as the boss wants.

Act Your Age – Your Real Age

I don’t care what it says on your birth certificate. Your real age is a matter of how you feel and how you act. I once managed a man who was in his late twenties, but acted like a teenager. There is no reason that a more mature person can’t also act younger. Just make sure it’s real. Don’t try to pretend to be part of your boss’s generation, with its unique language and way of dressing, but do demonstrate the energy, interest, and vitality of someone as young as you feel.

Make Your Boss Look Good

You may not be trying to climb the corporate ladder any longer, but your boss probably is. Do what you can to make him/her look good. Be productive and do your part. But you can also use your greater experience to spot pitfalls and try to – gently – steer your boss around them.

Don’t Waste Time Plotting An Overthrow

Your boss got the job because they were considered the best person for the job. Even if they aren’t the best choice, even if you are the best choice that ship has sailed. They are in the job. You can make yourself a valuable ally to them or you can fight them. Don’t waste time fighting. You’ve already lost that battle. If you can’t support the younger boss and make yourself look like a contributor, get out so you don’t make yourself look like a whiner.

Bottom Line

Treat your younger boss like you would treat any boss, regardless of relative age. Show them respect, support their goals for the team rather than your own, and be available to them as a valuable resource.

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