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Navigating Tricky Management Environments


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Becoming a manager after earning your MBA is a trial by fire. With all the training and simulations behind you, you’re thrust into the real world where the people you’re asked to lead are not all fellow business students. You may face any number of trying circumstances, but two scenarios in particular — when your managees are smarter or older than you — make for especially sticky workplace conditions. Check out the following pointers for pulling the most out of your staff despite these potential hurdles.

Managing People Smarter Than You

If you’re intelligent enough to earn an MBA, odds are you are a pretty smart cookie. However, if it were infallibly true that the smarter you are, the higher you climb, there wouldn’t be presidential elections — we’d just have a national IQ test and stick the winner in the Oval Office. As a manager, you’re bound to end up with people under you that know a bit more than you do, and therefore may be difficult to lead.

1. Be the best at what you do.

It is highly likely that the people under you will at least be more knowledgeable about the ins and outs of your industry; that’s why they’re sometimes called knowledge workers. And that’s great — you want those experts on your team because they get results. The key to earning their respect is to be an expert at managing.

What this means is in addition to your other duties, you must dedicate the same long hours and hard work to becoming a masterful listener, coach, facilitator and cheerleader as your subordinates have to becoming engineers, accountants or analysts. Stay up on the latest management research and factor the findings into your behavior. Study the management literature classics and glean timeless advice. Ask other managers you meet for his or her best leadership tips. Do this and your team members will recognize that you know your stuff.

2. Don’t over-manage.

The nature of the knowledge work-smart people do can make it seem like they’re not getting anything done, when in fact they are researching, learning, mulling or investigating. You’ll be tempted to get them to “do” something by scheduling more meetings, requiring progress reports or otherwise needlessly adding to their workloads, when the best thing you can do is get out of the way.

3. Check your ego.

Is your ego out of control? Then you’re going to have a difficult time working with your intellectual superiors. You’ve got to be willing to let your ideas be replaced if a subordinate offers a better one, and trust that your own bosses will recognize your abilities as a manager when you nurtured a good idea to successful completion, even if it wasn’t your original concept.

Managing People Older Than You

Thanks in part to a troubled economy, the average age of retirement is now 61, up from 57 more than 20 years ago. The average age of first-time managers? Thirty, according to Harvard Business Review. If math is not your strong suit, many new MBAs will be managing people twice their age. This can obviously make for an uncomfortable arrangement for everyone involved. Here are a few ways to proceed.

1. Be hyper-vigilant about your fairness.

Older employees may have a chip on their shoulder about being managed by someone young enough to be their son or daughter, and if so, they’ll be constantly on the lookout for you to treat the workers in your generation better or give them more leeway. The catch is that if you swing too far the other way in an attempt to pacify the senior workers, they could resent that just as much because they are already concerned about their job security. Feeling like they need special treatment to keep up will only exacerbate that fear.

2. Tap into their experience.

Everyone likes to have their opinion valued, and this may be the most effective technique you have in smoothing some of the tension between you and your older employees. In fact, asking older team members for their input is a stone that kills two birds — it will also prove to the rest of your younger subordinates that you don’t think you know it all and are willing to learn.

3. Don’t put them in an awkward position.

If you’re dealing with clients who are also quite a bit older than you, they may naturally defer to your older subordinates for help instead of you. The Generation Y management blog Under30CEO recommends being proactive after meetings to ensure clients know you are the one they need to speak with, either in person or by sending them an email addressing their questions. This prevents your subordinates from having to choose between speaking out of turn and being unhelpful to a client.

Reprinted by permission.

Image credit: CC by U.S. Embassy Jakarta, Indonesia

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About the author: OnlineMBA

OnlineMBA.com is dedicated to helping students, prospective students and recent graduates develop into influential and innovative business leaders by providing tips, articles, tools and conversation about the business world, MBA programs, the college experience, online degrees and a lot more.

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