Young managers can make their youth work for them
When I was a boy, my family lived in an apartment some shops. Every day after school, I did not have much of an opportunity to mix with children my age.
Instead, I spent time with the shop owners and employees working below us who were a few decades older. As a result, I matured more quickly than other children my age.
At the age of 31, I became a human resource director with a global bank, and had to manage people who where more experienced and older than I was. In fact, I attended countless meetings, within and outside of the company, where I was the most junior in terms of age and experience. I even received comments about how young I was to be holding this position at networking functions.
Being a young person in a corporate setting has its advantages and disadvantages, but it is still possible to be effective and influence others – whether you are perceived as young, or really much younger compared to your peers.
Here are some ways young senior business executives can hold their ground and gain more credibility at the workplace.
- Build presence.Executive presence comes from what we say and do, and how we say it. Amy Cuddy has a fabulous video on Ted Talk called “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are”. In that video, she explains how “power posing” can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in our brains and impact on our chances for success. What we believe shapes our words and body language, and consequently, our actions and words. How we project our body language influences our mindsets in return. This intriguing mind-body-mind connection aside, the key is having confidence and projecting ourselves to others successfully. Pay more attention to your postures and gestures, at work and outside of work. Adopt body language that establishes trusts, respects, confidence and connections with others.
- Build a great reputation.Like it or not, general biases about young executives’ perceived inexperience and immaturity will exist. A positive track record in your performance, in both business and people management, helps to shape a more trustworthy perception. A great reputation gains people’s respect. In sports, young athletes are just as equally celebrated as their older peers if they have a stunning performance. The same applies to the fields of music and science, as well as entrepreneurship. A great performance tells a positive story others will find hard to resist. When that happens, most people tend to remember your track record, and not your age. Repeated great performances further cement a positive reputation. If the tale of a great reputation spreads quickly beyond your immediate circle, news of a bad reputation travels even more quickly. So avoid being involved in negative news frequently, as this diminishes your positive wins.
- Wait for the right moment to speak.There was a classic television commercial from FedEx. In the commercial, the boss repeated the same thing that was just said by one of his subordinates in a meeting, and successfully got the attention of everyone around the table, when the subordinate was largely being ignored. Over the years, I have learned this trick. It’s not about how frequently you speak in a meeting, but what they say at the right time with the right perspective. The more you speak without thinking it through, the higher the chance of making a silly or ill-timed comment, which gives others the opportunity to dismiss your thoughts and put such comments down to your youth.
- Power dress.The old adage is true and I hate to sound a little old school here – clothes do make a man, or woman. Dressing up or dressing a notch higher does do some magic. Unless you work in an all jeans and hoodies environment, or already share the same stage with the likes of Mark Zukerberg or Brian Chesky, you may want to think about what you wear and how others may perceive you. Even if you work in an informal business environment, there are subtle ways to dress to impress. Be careful not to come across as sloppy and make your older peers feel like they are having a meeting with their college-going kid.
- Make the most of your youth.You are young after all. Older executives do appreciate the energy, fresh ideas, and enthusiasm from younger peers. So don’t try to act older than your age. But if you follow these tips closely, you may well be on your way to earning trust and respect of your colleagues, including older employees. Be authentic, show the best version of yourself, and bring your youth and energy to the table.
As Joe E. Lewis put it, “You are young once, and if you work it right, once is enough”.