Young entrepreneurs may give the impression that it’s all smooth sailing, but with youth comes certain challenges – not least the task of managing and delegating to those older than you. Young leaders often have their authority questioned, as well as their competence or ultimate ability to lead – and often by those who feel threatened and assume youth amounts to no more than inexperience. And underneath the seemingly confident exterior, young entrepreneurs regularly have to cope with their own self-doubt. But being both a manager and leader of your team requires trust in and respect for your employees, supported by the confidence to navigate the day-to-day and maintain respect and control.
Old habits die hard
I once read, “don’t be the boss – at least, don’t appear to be”. It’s important that business leaders endeavour to treat all staff equally, irrespective of their age. And as the Golden Rule says, treat those as you would wish to be treated. In the workplace, this extends to not asking anyone to do anything that you aren’t prepared to do yourself. This is particularly true as the founder of a startup, because there are a lot of mundane tasks during the early days.
But this gives young leaders the chance to get stuck in with everyone – do not immediately delegate. Old habits die hard, so give older employees time to get used to you as a leader and show them that you’re on their side.
Balance confidence with openness
It’s great to collaborate, but don’t give anyone the chance to walk all over you. Unfortunately, this can happen more frequently if you’re a young leader. Confront any problems head on, ensure your team knows your expectations and hold people accountable for their own work – this will also help their development and make your life easier.
While a young entrepreneur may have boundless confidence in their product, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they are a confident person. They are more likely than anyone else at work to experience insecurities about their own ability, so often have to work harder than you might think to portray confidence while not being authoritarian for the sake of it. The key is displaying confidence in your ability to make decisions while welcoming the team’s experience and skill sets.
Respect from your elders can come down to how confident they perceive you to be. Hesitancy can quickly quash any feelings of respect, so when you make a decision, stick to it and take responsibility for the consequences afterwards.
With age comes experience
Young entrepreneurs with at least one toe on the ground will be aware that they lack the experience of their older team members, regardless of their quick road to success. This is why it’s so important to surround yourself with a team of experts with experience in their chosen fields. Older employees and the wealth of experience they bring is a hugely valuable resource, and knowing how to harness it is an important skill.
In time, you will learn to establish a balance between giving more experienced employees the freedom to take ownership over certain projects or areas of work while keeping the bigger picture in mind. Knowing when to take a step back is as important as knowing when to step in and lead, and leadership is about getting the most out of your team’s respective skill sets, not simply taking everything on yourself.