How to control your rage when the boss is half your age
In 1979, Stan C. Kimer joined IBM as a young go-getter. His boss, a 28-year-old woman, managed a few fresh-faced newcomers like Kimer as well as some old-timers.
The older employees resented their manager, Kimer says, because they felt she micromanaged them. Her intrusive style annoyed them, especially because she was roughly half their age.
“They didn’t like having her hover over them,” recalled Kimer, who now runs Total Engagement Consulting, a training firm in Raleigh, N.C. “She kept asking them, ‘What are you doing?’ and ‘What are you working on?’”
Years later, Kimer was promoted into management at IBM. Because some of his underlings were much older, he knew better than to pester them daily and inquire about every aspect of their work.
“Those senior employees knew what to do, so I set goals and then left them alone,” he said. Rather than keep close tabs on their every move, he sought to earn their trust as their internal ally.
“They came to me when they needed my management clout to get more cooperation or resources from another department,” he said.
Kimer learned that older workers who report to someone much younger want recognition for their experience and expertise. Rather than stew in fury over having a boss half their age, these seasoned folks crave autonomy and simply want to do their job without having to prove themselves over and over to a supervisor whom they perceive as arrogant or condescending.
If you find yourself working for a much younger boss, there are healthy and unhealthy ways to cope. If you’re angry and regretful that your career has reached a plateau while someone who strikes you as unqualified seems destined for the fast track, find a safe outlet to vent your frustration. Complaining to your colleagues will only foment more ill will.
The vexation that comes from working for someone who’s the same age as your children can grow into an ever-expanding ball of bitterness. If you keep telling yourself, “I’ve paid my dues and now I have to report to this kid,” you will only make yourself more miserable.
In an ideal world, you’d replace such personal disdain with a larger sense of shared mission. But if you can’t muster the excitement to help your employer achieve its goals, at least don’t make matters worse.
“There’s probably a reason why that young person was promoted,” Kimer said. “So work with them to do what you can to make them look good and succeed.”
If that’s too much to ask, level with the boss. Politely explain that you’d like to enhance your working relationship by proposing some constructive ideas.
Get their permission before offering your suggestions. From there, preface your input by saying, “Our styles may differ a bit, so here’s a way to help us work together better.”
To tame micromanagers, you can say, “My hope is over time, you trust me to do my work and you don’t feel you need to check in daily.” Then you can review your goals and add, “Let me show you I can deliver on all these objectives by next month.”
“That way, you’re gently coaching them,” Kimer said. “And you’re doing it in a positive way.”
If all else fails, play the role of curious scientist. Pretend you’re digging for answers to a mystifying riddle.
“Use the situation as an opportunity to learn everything you can,” said Tammy Hughes, chief executive of Claire Raines Associates, a consulting firm in Wichita Falls, Tex. “Study how they work and try to learn a new skill from them,” even if you think you already excel at your job.
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