It happens to all of us–no matter how successful we are–if you stay in the workforce long enough, you’re going to have a boss younger than you. Why does this matter? Why do you care? Yeah, yeah, it shouldn’t, but to most of us it does. I’ll go back to harping about mental models. We have a mental model of what a boss is and that we need to look up to a boss and someone who is younger doesn’t deserve that. So why does our mental model require that our boss be older than us? Back in the day, when people entered the organization immediately after high school or college and then moved up the organization step by step, the bosses were 55-65 year old men who retired and made room for the next person (Oh, by the way, back in those same days, women only had some non-boss roles –I very specifically remember when people (both men and women) had the same issues with women bosses–bosses were NOT supposed to be women!!). I know there are lots of people who don’t remember those days. Most of the people, though, who are struggling with younger bosses now do remember those days. In fact they are mostly from those days. Things are different now. It’s time to change our mental models.
I certainly had the experience of working for bosses who were older than me who were not as smart, or knowledgeable or skilled at their job as me (I’m sure it was no one who reads this blog, though:-)). Age didn’t have anything to do with this. Neither did race or gender or even educational backgrounds. You aren’t guaranteed good bosses. Given that, though, good bosses come in all shapes, sizes, ages, genders and educational backgrounds. There are people who are younger than you who have more knowledge than you about somethings. There are people who have less education, less experience, or talent who can be good bosses for you. Good bosses bring what the job and the team need AT THE TIME. So change your mental model. Start thinking about what you need in a boss and stop assuming that someone younger than you can’t bring it. I know twenty-somethings who are better people managers than most of the middle managers that I know. I know fifty-somethings who can explain technology better than tech professors. One of the very best Executives I ever knew only had a high school education, but he sure knew how to gather information and make a quick and effective decision. He had an instinct that I’ve never seen in anyone before or since. I had a female boss, back in the days when that was rare, who focused so completely on the customer that she changed the culture (and the profits) of the organization. She did it before it was “THE THING TO DO.”
My point is that you’ve GOT to stop thinking about bosses as if they should be a certain gender, race, education or age. Ask yourself what your boss brings to the table. What does s/he bring that you don’t have? How and what can you learn from him? How can you improve the chemistry/relationship with her? How can you earn his respect? Unless you are knocking at retirement’s door, this is not the last boss you will have. Bosses will come in more different versions as our world changes. Get used to it. Get good at it. Especially if you want to be the boss.