The Younger Boss

By Winnie Mwangi

This could be a difficult thing for a lot of us – to get used to having someone younger than you having the reigns but who needs the job here? I think the first thing that would work when you find out that you have a younger boss or that you have landed a job where the boss is a whole lot younger than you is to be positive about it. Being positive would mean that you understand that it is qualifications which have put him/her there and not to try and change that. Be agreeable with that fact. Make picking your attitude to appreciate that this young person is your boss, a part of your daily startup routine. Remind yourself that you should consistently treat your younger boss with respect every time you go to work. If you choose to feel badly about it, you only have yourself to blame.

Everyone also knows that respect goes a long way in getting a lot of things sorted out and we cannot leave it out in the “younger boss” situation. This will definitely start with you (the older one) and remember that you need to learn how to act respectably which will earn you the benefits from either the old or young in the office.

Having wealth, clothing, being attractive are not requirements when you are trying to earn respect. Respect is accorded to those who live respectable lives, conduct themselves with integrity and treat others with high regard.

With respect as a foundation for dealing with the young boss:

Do not to pre-judge your younger boss thinking that you are better off because of your age. Instead, have some dignity and be civil to him or her, regardless of the age status. Know why you are at the job and stop thinking about the age thing, it will save you much heartache. Needless to say, age ain’t nothing but a number as the old adage goes. Focus on what you are good at and use it.

Treat everyone (including your younger boss) as a customer. Your boss is not your friend, be helpful and show interest and enthusiasm. You could even try to find out what interests him or her, e.g. tidiness, proper and trim layout of business letters, etc. Make a list and listen to what you have in common and things to remember about him or her. However, do not adore and show false interest, it will backfire on you sooner or later because the true colors will come to light.

Ask questions when unclear with unfamiliar terms which may not have been there in “your days”. Take note of these terms but it would also be good practice for you and the boss to use common business terms which are understood by everyone; your young boss will soon follow suit seeing that you are professional and use proper terms.

Be professional in every aspect. When age catches up, with time, you find that you are not able to cope with the fast lane boss and especially in terms of time keeping. You may need to be careful here because you do not want your young boss to be thinking “this old guy” and have a different opinion of you. Prove the young tuck wrong and be the first to enroll into gym classes, meet deadlines, dress smart and with the trend, show that you are still with it and basically be ahead of time. This will not only challenge the young boss to be a better leader and it will keep you in check to show your worth despite the age difference. However, even when you are dressing smart and being the “first”, you need to take into account that you should not try to change how things are done without considering the outcome. If you feel you are more experienced (long with age), talk your concerns with the young boss and be positive, avoiding using yourself in your experiences.

If you keep referring to your age experiences, it will berate the young boss and guess where you will be going next? I would want to believe that your young boss would appreciate it if you do not talk about his or her age to him or even to others. Avoid phrases like “back then” or “when we were young” unless and only if the boss asks.

Keep in touch with the boss. This means you should try not to keep your boss at arm’s length, but on the other hand, do not be misunderstood when you are being friendly because it can be misinterpreted as social interest. Be friendly in a professional manner without having any insinuations of interest for example, if you are an older man and your young boss is a fine lady, you can be friendly, but you need to have learnt as said earlier, the interests of your boss, her terms and work around those and when you become friendly, it will not be mistaken as social interest. Ensure that the boss knows and is comfortable with you working under her. If your boss is incompetent, it will show early. A good thing to note is that if there are other people working with you, they will be on the look out to see how you will deal with your young boss and the pressures of answering to a younger incompetent boss.

When your boss is younger:

  • Empathize. How you would like to be treated if you were in that position.
  • Treat him or her with respect as you would any other boss.
  • Look for positives of working under a young boss, e.g. Dynamism, energy, fresh approach to things, etc.
  • Focus on your strengths and this will ease the feeling of insecurity and resentment
  • Keep your skill up to date. Keep up with the market trend and technology
  • Be a mentor and the fantastic fixer! Take pride in being able to solve problems and keep a scoreboard. Imagine when your boss has to look up to you to give advice, to have a talk on something which should very well be done by him or her but prefers when the older one does it? That would be a plus in your career and that would mean that your young boss can rely on you, but this is earned with time and respect, positive attitude and skill will be what will win you to be a mentor.
  • Do not come across as condescending or intrusive but exercise humility. If you feel discomfort because of the age issue, raise it tactfully and respectfully.
  • Dress well. Update your style and have a fashion sense. Try not to copy your boss but be on the lookout for what suits you and is in style.
  • Check on what interests your boss. You will go a long way in supporting your younger boss when you know his or her likes and dislikes.
  • Try not to lose sight of the fact that you need your boss as much as he or she needs you. It will all boil down to the attitude you have towards the fact that your boss is younger than you and as you may know, attitude is a matter of choice. Sometimes we blame others for our bad feelings, while the bare minimum fact is that we all choose how we respond to situations.
  • Search yourself for your own skills that come with age, e.g. maturity, experience and know how. Use them.
  • Have a plan B and Plan C so that if it all falls apart and you have to exit, you will not be walking to an empty sunset.
  • Finally, thank God that you have a job. Always thank God for your job and for strength to do it well.

About the author

Wangari Maina

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