For a generation that's making a name for itself via hashtags, clicks, and iPhone sales, we're shaping the information landscape—and entering change-making leadership positions with new skills and experiences that challenge our "selfie" centered stereotypes.
In 2011, millennials launched almost 160,000 startups each month, and 29% of all entrepreneurs were 20 to 34 years old, according to a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation report. They're hiring, being promoted to positions of influence, and dealing with impostor syndrome as they manage employees who could be their parents.
With dynamics shifting, how can a young leader be taken seriously in the eyes of older employees?
It’s tempting for a newly minted leader to flaunt his skills or establish brash dominance over employees. But being vulnerable may be the wiser route.
"If you ask, listen, and learn, that can take a young manager a long way," Colin Hudson, the director of career development at Cranfield School of Management, told the Guardian. "A piece of advice given to me was, when you don't know, say you don't know. Being prepared to show your vulnerability is a sign of maturity."
And remember, you're not a prodigy. Ultimately, the focus should be on your work as a team or company, not on your accomplishments or unique skills.
Any new role comes with a learning curve, but that doesn’t mean you don’t know your stuff. Young leaders have the chance to prove themselves when they’re already cast as underdog. You got where you are through, presumably, a certain amount of ambition and skill. If you’re cast as a courier instead of a manager when you walk into a board meeting, take it as a chance to blow people away.
Being young might bring some resentment and respect conflict at first, but facing issues, instead of getting defensive or avoiding problems, can prove your worth. You were hired or promoted because you earned it—so own it.
If it’s a statement, state it: Phrasing simple declarations as questions is a habit that’s easy to fall into when you’re unsure of yourself. Known as "uptalk," spinning statements with a rise at the end betrays the speaker’s uncertainty in their own knowledge, even when they’re valid.
In a recent Australian survey, 85% of respondents agreed that speaking in perpetual questions is a clear indicator of insecurity. How we speak affect how we carry ourselves, the researchers told the Daily Mail:
"Speaking in definite or indefinite tones doesn't just sound different, it feels different and will affect the way the speaker is perceived. The message is clear: if you know what you're talking about, and want to be respected for it, then you need to sound like you know it."
Nonverbal cues say so much about our personalities, thoughts, and emotions. Studies show that good posture not only makes us look more in control, but increases cortisol and testosterone—making us more confident and relaxed. When we’re all plagued with "text neck," looking someone in the eye is a refreshing sign of confidence and trust.
It might sound old-fashioned, but a strong handshake goes a long way as well: The unspoken expectations of a firm handshake activate parts of our brains that both increase positive impressions, and reduce the chance of negative ones.
If you’re a young leader, you’re likely not the only one feeling awkward about the power shift. If you’re managing a team decades older than you, earning respect requires a new kind of awareness.
"In terms of intergenerational interactions, people judge others by their own framework that has been heavily influenced by their generation’s formative events, traits, and characteristics," says Brad Sago, in an article for the Center for Association Leadership.
In the past, as younger generations aged, the gap closed with the generation before them as they became more like their parents.
Today, gen Xers and millennials have less in common with their predecessors—as technology, the economy, and our values change for the long term—shaping new differences that are better accepted than dismissed with, "You’ll understand someday," or "You just won't get it."