How to manage a team when you’re younger than everyone else

By Lindsay Tigar

Though it may be “just a number,” age can shift the dynamics of any team. If you’re young and in a management position, it’s normal to worry about being seen as an authority figure by those who report to you. It’s important to set some ground rules in order to ensure you’re hitting goals, making progress, and creating a positive, inclusive workplace.

Here, female executives who have mastered this craft share their best tips for successfully managing a team when you happen to be younger than everyone else:

Ask your team to bring their life experiences into their work

Forty-year-old Jennifer Parker is the chief revenue officer at WePay, where she oversees an organization of more than 60 people. The average age of her direct reports is 49—almost 10 years older than she is. The CEO, however, is a decade younger. This means day-in and day-out, she’s moving between the perspective that comes from seasoned revenue professionals who “know the industry inside-out” and the perspective of what she calls an “industry disruptor” who wants to revolutionize traditional processes.

“It’s a balancing act, but being comfortable with that kind of tension is what lets you get really creative,”says Parker. To master this, she encourages her team members to bring their life experiences to the office, no matter if they’re professional or personal. “I want to create an environment where everyone feels heard,” says Parker. “They want their boss to hear their opinion, but also recognize their personal identity. By leaning in and being willing to learn from my team, it has helped me become a better leader and mentor.”

She believes this diversity is essential to growth and development. “If you take time to create a diverse workforce, you build a team that looks like the consumer: different ages, genders, and preferences.”

Prioritize a shared vision

At the age of 28, Colleen Costello is the CEO and cofounder of  Vital Vio. The majority of her team members are 35, making her seven years younger than those she works with on a daily basis. For Costello, what mattered to her when hiring was that everyone had a shared vision for the business.

“It’s important to set a concrete company mission and hire people that are ready to rally behind it. It may sound obvious, but so many companies recruit solely for skill sets and experience. While these are important, I’ve found that a candidate will only succeed if they embody our company’s end goal,” she says. “If a prospective hire doesn’t share in this vision and our ability to do exactly that, they’ll miss the guiding principles of the work we’re doing and the executives leading the charge.” 

In addition to starting from the same playing field, Costello also believes in the power of communication and explaining to her team why each and every decision was made. She also encourages their opinions and their input, but stresses the important of coming to the table with data to back-up their ideas. Since she’s always worked in STEM, her whole career has been based in numbers. “I’ve found that critical decisions can’t be made by age or experience alone, but rather [they are] paired best with what the data shows us.”

Emphasize two-way respect

On Rachel Katzman’s C-suite teams, the average age is 46. But as the founder of Cuvee Beauty and the CEO of P.volve, Katzman is nearly 20 years younger, at 27. This means Katzman benefits from the executive thought leadership of those who have been in the industry for decades, but also knows her opportunity to shift visions and modernize perspectives. She calls this dynamic a two-way respect mentality, and it’s been the key to her success. “I am very cognizant of the fact that I am sitting at the table with strong, very capable women who have run companies in the past and who have lived through tremendous successes and failures,” she says. “But with that being said, it is important to make sure everyone on the entire teams feels that they have a voice and it is heard.” 

She says she does this by instituting a collaborative, open workplace. But final say? That belongs to her. “My team knows while experience is essential—passion and vision are equally as important. I only want to work with people who see both sides of that powerful equation. I absolutely insist that I am a part of every decision that is made creatively with both my companies,” she says. “While I always listen to different perspectives and love to be challenged, I am the last approval for all creative work, and I don’t plan on changing that any time soon.”

Ask for advice, remain positive, and don’t micromanage

As the co-founder and CSO of KiiTO, 29-year-old Kendall Dreyer works primarily with her broker and merchandising team that’s made of food and beverage industry veterans, all around 40 years old. To kick off business development or when bringing on new team members, she starts by explaining her execution strategy. This allows newbies to understand her approach. She also makes sure to leave room for their advice.

Especially in areas she may not have as much insight, like retailer partnerships, her team’s opinions are paramount. In an effort to maintain morale and to ensure her team members of all ages are satisfied, she also makes an effort to acknowledge their hard work. “I let my team know they’re doing a great job whenever it’s warranted,” she says. “Celebrating their wins for the company and being appreciative of their work ultimately gets them even more hyped about what we’re building, resulting in greater performance.”

Last but not least, she has a strict rule against micromanaging. Especially when folks are older than you are, thee’s nothing worse for productivity than hovering. “Trust in your team and their many years of experience,” she says. “Motivate your team with your positive energy and enthusiasm toward what you are building.

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