How Do I Manage Someone Twice My Age?

Q: I’m only 23 and was recently promoted into a leadership position. I feel really lucky to be where I am. However, in this new position, I’m also in charge of a few people who are twice my age — if not more. Most are handling this really well and are excited to be working with me in this capacity, but there’s one guy in particular who isn’t having a go with it. He’s rude and disrespectful to me and I don’t know how to handle it. I know he has a daughter my age and this could bother him. How do I make the situation better so he wants to work with me?

A: Congratulations and well done on the promotion. I’m sure you were promoted on merit, so keep this in mind when you’re interacting with your much older team member — you deserve to be there.

If you’re in a position of managing this gentleman, who’s more than twice your age, and he continues to be rude and disrespectful, then at some point, you’ll need to sit him down and speak with him.

I’m sure it’s an adjustment for him, particularly as he has a daughter your age. He’s probably going through some of his own uncomfortable feelings and emotions questioning his lack of career advancement and perhaps comparing himself to you, but this is still no excuse for him being rude and disrespectful.

I recently read some comments by Sheryl Sandberg. At the time she was considering joining Facebook as COO, other companies were willing to hire her as CEO. People questioned why she was taking a “lower level” job to work for a 23-year-old. (Mark Zuckerberg was 7 years old when she was graduating from Harvard.) But this is the new age we live in; promotion is no longer dependent on age.

People rarely stay in one company and methodically climb the corporate ladder like they used to. I’ve worked with many people in senior positions who were younger than me. At some point, he’ll either need to embrace this and make the best of it or leave your group.

Create an Advantage

This being said, try to work with him and help him play to his strengths. He could be quite an asset if managed correctly. It sounds like you have quite a senior team, who bring life skills to the job, as well as their years of experience. If you think he’s good at what he does and has something of benefit to offer you and your group, then support him in stepping into this.

Set Up One-On-One’s

This is not only a new job for you, but as a manager, I’m sure you have a heavier workload and are still finding a new rhythm. If you haven’t already done so, I would set up a review with each member of your team. Find out their strengths, discuss areas where they can improve and look to align these with the performance targets and goals of the team. Delegate sizable projects that stretch each member and get the team involved so they feel they have autonomy over the projects they’re working on.

Create a Peak Potential Environment

Delegating is also a great opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to be a manager focused on career advancement of the team and getting the best out of them. According to the findings in “A Spiritual Audit of Corporate America,” respondents were asked, “What gives people meaning in their work?” Their No. 1 response: “The ability to realize my full potential as a person.” Making money was the fourth choice.

Delegate to Win

Delegating serves as a “win-win” strategy: it demonstrates to your team that you believe in them and are advocating for their career advancement and personal growth. And as the manager, you’re then able to find time to think more strategically because you have successfully delegated.

If you start again taking into account that the No. 1 response is “the desire we all have to realize our full potential as a person,“ you could end up being the first manager who has ever really cared about this gentleman’s career development. He may even turn around and thank you.

In the meantime, stick with it. You earned it. You deserve to be there in the management position.

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