Lots of talk these days about the increasing role the millennials are playing in the workplace. At the same time, many boomers remain in the workforce. The result: younger people managing folks older than them.

Millennials tell me they often feel uncomfortable in these situations. Today, I was talking with a young man taking over a family business. He shared with me that while he is excited about the opportunity, he is wondering why none of the “seasoned guys”, who have been with his father a long time, wanted to buy the business from his Dad. He is also wondering how they feel about him being their boss.

While the dynamics of a family business are different, I hear the same story from millennials in all types of organizations. And, I remember when I too was in a similar situation. I was 24 and became the manager of 3 divisions of a large company. Two of the direct managers were older than me and one was my age. Turned out the most challenging one, as you may have guessed, was with Nevin, the one my age. He wanted the job I had.

Here is what I learned from this experience. It is up to both the manager and the now junior employee to make it work. The best situation for me was with Rita, a graceful woman 30 years older than me. Rita didn’t want my job; she loved the job she had. And, while I was her boss, I learned a ton from her. She was gracious in sharing her wisdom and I credit her with helping me become a better leader. Nevin was a bigger challenge; we had some rough waters for some time. What we learned was there was a place for both of us and we could learn from each other. The result, we remained friends for many years to come. When I moved on, he took over the role I had, and years later, I introduced him to a friend who helped him launch a writing and speaking career he had dreamed of.

If this resonates with you, whether you are the boss in this situation or the older or peer subordinate, what are you doing to make the extra effort to make this work for both of you?

Why Vistage Works

Elisa K. Spain

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