“Wait – who just got promoted around here? You’re kidding me! That 20-something? He’s just a kid! How could he get the nod for a promotion when someone just a few office doors down from him has been here so much longer? It doesn’t make sense!”
Have you ever overheard someone in your company hallways talking about a more junior-level person getting promoted ahead of his or her time? In “the old days,” (which weren’t so long ago), it seemed the #1 way to get promoted was tied to your longevity and seniority, right? You worked your way up, bided your time and when the opportunity came, you’d be the next person in line to get the call to step up to a bigger role, bigger office, bigger salary, etc. At least that’s how it was supposed to play out.
The times are changing fast. Even as you read this. What we’re seeing a bit more frequently is a shift in which younger employees are grabbing opportunities to step up based on their grasp of technology. If you think about it, they have a slight advantage in that technology such as mobile phones, laptops, social media and more have been baked into their DNA. They’ve grown up with the Internet, Facebook, YouTube, tablets and texting.
As a result, some of us who started our careers in the 70’s and 80’s may have more to learn, but pointing to that alone is a convenient excuse. In mind, the biggest thing that holds senior employees back from promotion is their resistance to learn new things.
When times change and new technologies are introduced, a company may have no choice but to adapt with those times to stay competitive. Guess what? So do the people under that company roof. Frankly, some more senior-level people can’t handle that. They were comfortable and now they almost resent how the career path they were on, that predictable road where they could easily see the changes coming, suddenly has some new twists and turns. They hate it, they resist it and it becomes clear that they want no part of this new direction.
Is it any wonder why a person like that – senior or not – gets passed over?
So someone younger than you just got promoted.
There are 3 ways to make the most of that.
Look, it’s OK to be quietly angry and disappointed if you’ve been passed over – but no company wants to see that on the outside. This is where you turn it around and see 3 huge positives from this situation:
1) Embrace it as a learning opportunity to gain some new skills. If you have a new boss several years younger, what kind of skills can you pick up from them? Don’t be resentful. The way of the world is that people in their 20’s and 30’s are coming up fast – look no further than Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, a person who changed the world at an early age.
So if a young rising star in your company ascends one rung in the ladder above you, you’ve got to see the glass half full when that happens. How much can you learn from them? Probably a lot.
That’s why I think that one of the very first steps you should do is sit down with this kind of young manager and say how thrilled you are about the experience that he or she is bringing to the table. Express how you are open to coaching and how you’d love to sharpen your skills when it comes to the technology that they take for granted. This is building a rapport.
2) Embrace the opportunity to mentor them in return. Conversely, a younger person can be the boss, but that doesn't mean that you can't impart some wisdom to them as well. In fact, this can be a real moment of truth for a younger boss in that they should welcome the input from someone with your years of experience (provided you’re not talking down to them in any way). Because when someone is new to any kind of leadership role, the last thing they should want to do is ram their initiatives through without learning more from those who have been there, done that and are happy to share their insights. Like yourself.
Do your own inventory of past successes and you might just say to your new manager, "You know, I was thinking about some of the things you want to accomplish in the next quarter and it reminded me of an experience I had that might be able to help you out. Do you have time to grab lunch this week so we can talk more about it?”
Suddenly, you’re now very collaborative and offering something invaluable – a real template for possible and repeatable success. That’s hard to pass up, wouldn’t you say?
3) Embrace the partnership potential. When you learn from your manager and can offer moments to mentor them through your experience in return, you have a real opportunity to change the dynamic in such a positive manner. You go from the typical boss-and-employee relationship to one in which you become partners to each other.
As allies with such mutual respect, you can share in confidence what each other is thinking about, the concerns you have that lie ahead and demonstrate how you’ve put each other’s teachings to practical use in your day-to-day work.
At GForce, I’m reminded of how valuable these types of partnerships with younger people can be every day, regardless of what titles we hold within the company.
When I recently hired a new employee with fresh ideas on technology, I may not have understood every concept he shared right away but I didn’t resist his thoughts very much at all. I did a lot of listening and I’m glad I did because his ideas were so powerful that they made my ability to manage ten times more efficient.
There’s a win-win relationship to be had in which your boss and you can learn so much from each other. That’s going to be far more important to you and the company’s success than how old either of you is.
Have you ever found yourself in a situation passed over by a younger manager for a promotion? How did you handle it? Were you able to move forward successfully? What kind of strategies would you suggest for someone to still thrive in this situation? We’d love to hear more about your experiences with this.
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