A recent online poll asked readers whether people over 40 make better bosses. More than eight out of 10 respondents answered "yes." I tend to agree (with caveats, of course), but I thought I'd ask around and get the input of others. Not surprisingly, others also agreed but also with some reservations.
Among the people I asked, a common concern seemed to be the attitude a manager has towards employees. Managers who looked out for employees were perceived to be good bosses, whereas managers who showed little concern for employees were perceived as bad. This factor applied regardless of age.
For example, one experienced manager I asked said "I've had or observed stellar managers who were under 30, and I've had horrible supervisors who were over 40."
That said, the word "experience" seemed to be the most common factor affecting a manager's concern for his or her employees, and most people equated experience with "over 40."
Another person told me she once worked as a secretary in a large company, and several managers oversaw her department while she was employed there. Jackie (not her real name) said:
"My first boss was excellent. She was openly concerned about how to make our jobs easier, and that often meant teaching us how to do things. Then, once we knew how to do what she taught us, she trusted us to do it. She stayed out of our way and let us do our jobs."
Unfortunately, that manager eventually moved away and someone from another department was given the duty of supervising secretaries.
"The difference was night and day," said Jackie. "The person they put over us had no experience as a secretary and no management experience, either. The only thing she did was delegate everything as far down as she could - without providing any training or coaching for what she wanted done. And, no matter how much we asked, she wouldn't take the time to learn about our jobs and the task loads we already had."
According to Jackie, several secretaries tried to communicate this problem to other managers but nobody was listening. Within a year, most of the secretaries were looking for work elsewhere.
In case you're wondering, Jackie's first boss was over 40, the second boss was not.
This isn't to say that the younger manager couldn't have had more empathy for her employees, but Jackie's story illustrates a common perspective: Managers with more life experience tend to see a bigger picture and tend to act with that bigger picture in mind.
Derek, himself a seasoned manager, put it this way: "Managers over 40 have less to prove. They're aware that they don't know everything, so they're less likely to think they automatically know what's best. They listen more."
I pointed out this was a broad generalization, and Derek admitted as such. "It all depends on the person," he said, "but more often than not this is the case."
Echoing the idea that experience is the key differentiator for managers over 40 was Brent Ives, principle at BHI Management Consulting in Central California.
"They have a track record and can aptly apply those perspectives," Ives says. "They also have a higher potential for having figured out their motivations. On the other hand, it's easy for older managers to become set in their ways, and a danger exists for subconscious discrimination."
Ives says younger managers often have a more difficult time earning the respect of their work group, especially with older workers, possibly because of a differing work ethic. This often offsets the benefits of having younger managers with fresh viewpoints.
Since experience seems to be an issue and everyone is on the same time/space continuum, this begs the question, what can a young manager do to compensate for having less experience?
First, act on the fact that employee development is one of your core responsibilities. Become a student of the people on your team. What do employees want to learn? What makes them look forward to getting to work each day? If you don't know the answers to those basic questions you're falling down in your role as manager.
Second, listen to others and seriously consider their input. Patience is not only a virtue, it shows you care and it keeps them engaged, too. Ignore other people's input and they'll be ignoring you.
Third, plan as much as you can, and communicate that plan as much as you can. Planning is part of the core job responsibilities for any manager; communicating the plan makes you more effective.
Fourth, attend management training regularly. You can't possibly know everything, so become a lifelong learner and model that same behavior to others.
These are just several suggestions to get you started. If you'd like more, feel free to drop me an email or leave a comment. I'm happy to dialog with managers seeking to be more effective.