A Guy 15 Years Younger Than Me Is Now My Boss -- What Do I Do? Part of the new series “Ask the Career Coach”
I’m a 51-year-old account director and I’ve just learned that a guy
15 years my junior has been promoted to my boss. He’s got some raw
talent and isn’t a bad guy, but I’ve worked with him directly before and
he’s not a great leader, and we’re very different in style and
I’m worried that it won’t work out well for me, and that it will be
really challenging to report to someone like him who’s so much younger.
Also, I’m a bit p-o’d that after all my years of service here, I’ve been
passed over. I’m feeling like I’ve been dissed, and I want to walk out,
but I realize that’s probably not the best move.
Thanks for openly sharing your concern about your age difference with your new boss and the impact of working for someone much younger. If you go online and do a Google search on “generational issues in the workplace” you’ll find over 163,000 entries, and if you read any number of these articles and posts, you’ll see “experts” of all walks sharing their opinions about how to handle the issue.
I’m going to share my own personal take on the topic which is this: Generational differences are like every other type of difference between humans. They touch on the wide spectrum of beliefs, habits, behaviors, conditioning, values, priorities, style and much more. The fact that we often find it so hard to report to someone much younger is actually more about our own bruised ego, and our feelings that we’ve been betrayed by our employer or boss because he or she didn’t recognize our talents and skills and decided to promote this young whippersnapper in our place. How dare they?
That said, here are my top five tips for overcoming the challenges of working for someone much younger:
Get hip to your feelings – your true feelings, unkind, biased all — about this situation.
First, it’s vitally important to come to terms with the fact that this individual has been promoted over you. You can break yourself against this, or you can embrace that it happened for a good reason that will eventually lead to your growth and expansion in some way, shape or form, if you let it. If you’re stuck in resentment and self-pity, it’s most beneficial to let that go as quickly as possible, and commit to moving forward in a positive, cooperative way. If you can find a way to be helpful and supportive of your new boss, you’ll get a lot more out of the situation than if you buck him every step of the way. And who knows, you might learn something.
Seek to understand and value this individual, not make him wrong for how he’s different (and younger).
It’s a fact – individuals from different generations often see the world very differently, and interact with it in a completely different way. It’s helpful to do some boning up on how the generations differ overall, and also try to get to know your new boss from a place of wanting to be helpful, and striving to be of service to him as your supervisor. Ask him out to lunch, sit on teams with him, network with him where you can, and attempt to form a bond that goes beyond just “trying to get through this challenge,” but instead, learn from him as someone who has something to teach you.
Embrace diversity, don’t resist it.
You mentioned that you are “very different in style and approach” and I get the sense that, to you, that’s a negative thing. Most of us feel that way – when we’re with people who are very different, we can feel undervalued, disrespected or alienated. But the research and data are conclusive on this – organizations that help their employees address generational differences effectively contribute to greater collaboration, cooperation, productivity and enhanced performance. So, the better we can understand and accept each other’s differences and work well together, the better we all fare.
Leverage your differences, don’t hide them.
In your dealings with your boss, when you have a different way of seeing a situation or problem, or would like to use an approach that’s different from your boss’s, don’t hide or suppress that – share it openly. Again, remember that you bring so much experience, insight and know-how to the table that is complementary to his talents and experience and needs to be contributed. Just remember to share your differences in a respectful, calm and confident manner so that you can be fully heard, recognized, and valued for all you have to offer.
Take a serious look at how much you like your work.
If you’re really that angry about being what you perceive as being passed over, I’d like to ask a deeper question – how much do you really like your work there? Does the work keep you motivated, energized and engaged there, or is it more about the title , the hierarchy and your place in it? I’m not asking this to be harsh. I’m asking so you can take a good long look at how much this role suits you. If you love it, then reporting to someone else shouldn’t be that big a deal, right? (especially if you don’t even know how he’ll be as a boss)?
If you don’t love the work, then this type of change will really rock you.
Finally, if you truly believe you’ve been slighted and passed over, and deserve the promotion, go in and talk to his boss, and make your case.
In the end, your new boss will undoubtedly perform, communicate, manage and lead in ways that are different from yours. The key is to dig deep, do some inner work, figure out what you really want now, and see if you can turn this into an opportunity that moves you both forward towards your highest goals.
If you find you just can’t support him as your boss, you’ll want to move on, but don’t do that in a rash, angry way that will burn bridges forever. If you storm out, you’ll just look like a guy who can’t lead or manage himself effectively. Hope that helps!