It’s quite the workforce we’re in now, my generation. Billionaires under the age of 30 seem to pop up every few months or so. Tech moguls look barely out of grad school. And for many of us average guys, in leadership positions – managing people – by the time we hit our mid-twenties.
As young leaders get younger, and the people we manage get nearer in age and maturity with us, how do we navigate the evolving relationship dynamics of “Millennials managing Millennials”?
Age is really just a number.
I was around nine years old when I visited my mother’s workplace, a college. People’s positions and relationships there were somewhat obvious: I remember thinking that the oldest ones must be the Deans and Vice-Deans, while the “moms” and “dads” must be the Professors; any younger (in my eyes then, those who look like they could be my older siblings), and they were probably junior lecturers.
The assumption was more or less correct. Age gaps were evident. Generational gaps, even more so.
However, my own experiences tell me this isn’t necessarily true anymore. I started managing people at 26; my team at the time had an average age of 23.
We were a lot closer than I thought (or cared to admit at the time) in how we think, act, get motivated, and see/understand the world.
We need to ask questions we ourselves want answers to.
I’ve been quite lucky to have had great leaders in my career so far. Collectively, they help me see the leader I want to be one day. I do this by looking at the traits they have that I like, and try to emulate them. Of course, I need to be aware to not copy or learn the traits I don’t like.
These leaders helped me grow so much, as a follower and as a leader.
I grew when I was allowed to make as many, “non-fatal” mistakes as I needed. Without judgment (even if I would feel like the world was ending), they would sit with me and explain, objectively, how I could have done things better. It was always about the work, not about the person.
I grew when I felt like I could always have some of their time. I obviously didn’t take advantage of this, mind you, but I felt more confident when I felt like I always had someone to rely on if and when I needed help. I felt like their doors were always open for us younger/newer kids.
I also grew when I knew that they were in the trenches with me, with us. It can be a battlefield, this industry, and it’s all too easy to let ‘the boots on the ground’ wallow in the mud and gore by themselves. Knowing that my leaders are ready and willing to roll up their sleeves and shed blood, sweat, and tears with me (and for me) makes a huge world of difference.
What a difference leading from the front does.
Thats’s the kind of leader I want to become one day.
- Am I letting my team make mistakes without judgment? I believe it’s best to teach responsibility and accountability to junior team members when their mistakes have manageable, non-fatal repercussions. They will learn; we just have to trust their learning processes.
- Am I making them feel that they can have my undivided time? I believe that the gesture of giving time to others – especially the ones we lead – builds trust and self-belief. It builds a culture of respect.
- Am I leading by example? I believe that we should be the change we want to see, in any organisation. As leaders, we leave lasting impressions to the ones we lead. What will this legacy be?