Magazine article Management Today

First-Class Coach

Magazine article Management Today

First-Class Coach

Article excerpt

Beneath the superficial generational differences, there will be a lot that unites you.

Q: I have recently changed job to one where my team are all much younger than me. I've been used to managing people who were about my age, so the generation gap seems very large. Everything from their language to the way they approach their work is unfamiliar. How can I connect with them across this divide and still maintain my authority?

A: 'Don't their parents teach them any manners?' asked an exasperated client of mine in response to a recent lapse in politeness in one of her younger staff. Then she stopped abruptly as she realised how much like an old fogey she was sounding. Like you, she was recognising a gap between her cultural norms and what her junior staff appeared to see as appropriate behaviour.

Much has been written about Generation X and Generation Y, ascribing characteristics, and speculating on how they would behave in the workplace. Predictions include a preference for team working over taking sole responsibility and, having been overindulged as children, a tendency to expect hand-holding by managers. Though I'm sure there are grains of truth in these studies, the generation gap has always been present, and managers have had to find ways to work with it. Where once those with more age and authority could dictate what should be done and have a reasonable chance of being obeyed, this hierarchical approach is now only very rarely effective.

It is important for you to understand your team if you are to tap into the talents they bring. Spending some time with them will help, especially one-to-one, away from the social pressures of the rest of the team, which may be modelled on the adversarial 'Us and Them', staff against managers, style of interaction.

As for their communication style, trying to ape their language would be doomed. Better to avoid jargon and management-speak and use plain English, asking for translations when you're unclear what they mean.

If you are looking for role models, think back to your own schooldays and the teachers who had good relationships with pupils while still keeping control. I'm willing to bet it wasn't those who tried to dress and act young. Neither was it the strict authoritarians, who coerced pupils to work and were highly resented, even if they did extract good results from the more able pupils. …

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