Age is just a number

by 21 Dec 2011
‘Managing upwards’ is often identified by young managers as particularly troublesome. Childhood development dictates we should show reverence to those older than ourselves – a schoolyard habit that proves problematic when transferred to the workforce.

“Young managers face a unique challenge when their team consists of people older than themselves,” says Keetels.

“It’s something that I’ve been very aware of within the management of my teams. I constantly have to tell myself not to qualify statements when I’m leading the not-so-young. I have to remind myself to enforce decisions the way I would with younger staff. Young managers need to be cognizant of this, back their own ability and judgment, but be aware of potential concerns and use softer skills to overcome these situations.”

Finding the right balance

When filling leadership positions HR’s objective is always to choose the best person for the job regardless of age. As Keetels puts it, “Age has nothing to do with it. Leaders should be judged on their skill set and a team will respect the quality of leadership that their leaders espouse.”

With Australia’s ageing Baby Boomer population reaching retirement age, the role of mature managers is evolving.

“An essential role for mature managers is mentoring young managers coming through.” Keetels says.

“As long as young managers can learn from their elders, the challenges for organisations faced with outgoing and retiring managers will be greatly lessened.”

HR managers have the very difficult task of forming teams with complementary components. Keetels advocates a team with “a blend of experience levels, background and gender”.

“By promoting younger people you create an organisation that incorporates different perspectives and one that can holistically understand different societies and communities. There is limited value in having a leadership team that is mono-cultural; all of the same age, same gender, same background because there is always going to be a limited number of perspectives. Having the blend of the more mature and the younger managers will definitely add value. ”

Nurturing young managers

By encouraging young up-and-comers into leadership positions, organisations are exposed to new and innovative ideas that challenge existing business structures that can rejuvenate a team. When grooming a young candidate for a leadership position Keetels has some advice:

“HR managers need to ask themselves ‘what is this person’s future in the company?’ If this person has a future at a senior level, HR essentially needs to be thinking about not only the current role the candidate will fill but the senior role after that,” Keetels says.

“It’s about looking at their development timetable and how they will perform in one, three and five years’ time. Organisations need to have an eye to the future and be looking at people for the promise they hold for that future.”


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