About 15 years ago, as I was climbing up the editorial food chain at my former publishing company, I found myself in the rather awkward position of managing employees many years my senior. In some cases, I woke up one day to find myself managing individuals that had previously been MY manager. Frankly, I wasn't ready for it. Being that these people were journalists, they were often very opinionated about how I did (or did not) do my job. It took all my skills of diplomacy and a lot of trial and error to figure out the right path, which wasn't necessarily the same for every person.
There are a whole bunch of generational forces at work that suggest this is a phenomenon that will be repeated many, many times during the next decade as masses of Baby Boomers retire and companies reach down into the ranks of 20-somethings to appoint new managers. As companies start hiring again in 2010 and beyond, this should also be a consideration. Businesses would be smart to get out in front of what this will mean for collaboration, decision-making and team dynamics. In case you haven't noticed, the social and cultural gap between Millennials, Generation X-ers and the tail end of the Baby Boomers is rather spacious.
"Many companies simply move a 20-something employee into a management role, requiring leadership skills, but don't provide any leadership training, and this cause many young managers to struggle. Lack of experience, lack of training, and (sometimes) lack of maturity, are not an ideal combination. Many of the young managers that I personally coach have little knowledge of even the most basic leadership principles, and this quickly affects their team's morale and productivity."
One simple example is the disconnect that could occur around communications styles, which are likely to be a bone of contention. Even though a "Millennial" 20-something might be inclined to text or instant message to get someone's attention, chances are this is not in the comfort zone of someone twice their age. Don't even get me started on social networking: One of the biggest cultural gaps that new managers will need to overcome is the fact that Generation X-ers and Baby Boomers have more distinct lines drawn between their personal lives and business lives.
There are also likely to be gaps between the generations' perceptions of substainability philosophy or where green business fits in the realm of management priorities. I would suggest that corporate social responsibility will loom larger in the Millennial manager's mind than it might of in previous generations of leaders. This, dear readers, is great in my opinion but likely to cause ripple effects in terms of strategy and execution.
Ideas for how a Millennial can prepare for a leadership role are the focus of a new book by leadership coach Lisa Orrell called "Millennials Into Leadership: The Ultimate Guide for Gen Y's Aspiring to be Effective, Respected Young Leaders at Work." The rationale behind the book and Orrell's philosophy are discussed here.
I would suggest, however, that we-who-may-be-managed by these Millennials in the future might also be smart to take a peek at this book. Knowing how your new boss might make decisions or how they might consider suggestions/new ideas seems rather career-savvy.