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Take a Positive Approach to a Younger Boss

Ask The Expert

By Barbara Mitchell

Q: My new boss is considerably younger than I am. How can I make this work?

A: The longer any of us work, the more likely it is that we’ll report to someone younger than we are, so consider yourself in good company.

This isn’t necessarily a bad situation, so take a deep breath and think about the positives. Start by considering what you might learn from this younger person—odds are he or she was selected for the position based on talent and a record of success, so your new supervisor likely has skills or knowledge that will benefit you.

Remember that one of the roles you now play is to help your new manager succeed. Continue to work hard and contribute to your department while you learn from your new boss.

As you get to know your new manager, you will learn his or her strengths, and this will provide some clues as to how you can work together. For example, your manager may have technical skills you don’t have, while you can provide institutional knowledge that he or she may lack. This sets you both up for a classic win/win: You can improve your technical skills while helping your manager navigate the organization and avoid any pitfalls that might derail his or her success.

Remember that one of the roles you now play is to help your new manager succeed. Continue to work hard and contribute to your department while you learn from your new boss.

Just as you would in any new relationship, look for common interests. Even though you and your boss might be from different generations, you may find you both love to ski or you both are opera buffs. You can build upon your shared interests to establish a strong relationship.

And here are a couple of important don’ts: Never use phrases like “we’ve always done it this way” or “in my day….” And don’t ever make reference to your manager’s age: It’s simply not relevant to your respective roles or the work you need to do together. 

If you approach the situation from a positive perspective, continue to perform at a high level, and support your new manager, you can make the relationship work.

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR. Do you have a question you’d like her to answer in “Ask the Expert”? Send it to [email protected].

Career Development