Helpful hints on working alongside a younger team leader

Demonstrate understanding

Sometimes your manager may feel uncomfortable by your level of experience. If you are sensitive to these feelings and can recognise that you and your team leader have different talents and capabilities, it makes life easier. You may have some deeper niche skills while your boss has a broader managerial skill set.

Nichola has been a team leader, project manager and, two children later, has returned to work at Momenta reporting to a younger leader:

“I can see that a younger leader brings more recent managerial experience certainly compared to someone coming back to the workplace. And I’m respectful of that. Younger leaders can have a different knowledge of the business compared to older colleagues. The important thing is focus on how you’re going to use your expertise to deliver in your role and contribute to the project objectives”.

Be open minded, cooperative and flexible

Keeping an open mind and staying flexible about how things get done are important on any project - when there’s an age difference it becomes ever more so. Avoid assumptive decisions, instead take some time to determine how you can best co-operate and deliver your role effectively working with your manager.  Have a flexible outlook, for example, you may be used to a lot of face-to-face meeting time, but your boss may prefer to handle a lot of his/her communications via email, text or instant messenger.

Ben, manager, observes the need for an upfront chat:

“No matter how old your manager is, it’s important to ensure you’re on the same page, and that requires clear communication. It’s always worth having a chat about expectations, style, and role.

Aim to be a partner

You want an effective, productive working relationship.  This means understanding what your leader’s problems are and offering solutions. One of the best ways to support younger managers is through using your experience to help them in areas they may be less experienced in. 

Kate, team leader, comments on how important language can be:

“I hear stories from people who have older colleagues that when they say things like ‘When I was your age’, or ‘We used to do it this way.’ Or ‘After you've been doing this as long as I have you'll see what I mean’. Those sorts of things are really not helpful”

Be yourself

Corin, Resource leader, offered the insight that:

“Your experience and life stage are integral to who you are. So you and your manager happen to be in different phases of life. You can embrace it and be philosophical about it. Maturity means that you can relate to a number of life stages and if you are open to talking about these things with your younger boss it will make the relationship authentic.”

Find the silver lining

Nick, team member, took a positive view of being older:

“Don’t assume life’s going to be more difficult. Avoid stereotyping.  Find the similarities, not the differences. Think positive. It can be fun working alongside someone younger than you. There’s nothing like a fresh set of eyes to make an old subject seem new – and that can be exciting.”