Making your way into management isn’t easy. For most organizations, a spot among the leadership is coveted, and only made available after years of hard work and dedication. But, as many come to find out, management isn’t easy. In many cases, being the boss is kind of a nightmare. Often, people promoted to management or leadership positions find themselves in way over their heads.
Joffrey, from Game of Thrones, comes to mind as an example.
Fans of the show The Office watched the rise of Ryan Howard, played by B.J. Novak, from the role of lowly temp to corporate executive in a very short amount of time. This rustled some feathers in Dunder Mifflin-world. Howard leapfrogged several older and more experienced employees to get the job. Most notably, he hopped over Michael Scott to become his boss.
There was a plot arc dealing with the fallout. Howard, the young upstart with a shiny new MBA, was evidently valued more than experienced employees. Ultimately, he ended up in handcuffs for fraud — his attempts to prove himself backfiring.
Lessons abound from Howard’s plight. You can draw comparisons to Icarus. Or simply try to understand how some of Howard’s colleagues felt when he — young and inexperienced — became their boss. It was probably frustrating and bred jealousy and resentment. It isn’t easy to sit back while a young hotshot takes the reins, especially when you feel you’ve earned a shot.
The perils of management at a young age
If you’re early in your career, or just not a member of your workplace’s nobility, earning respect and advancing are probably at the top of your agenda. It’s not easy, though, and it can actually backfire — as it did with Ryan Howard. No one can blame you for wanting to climb the ladder. But if you’re not careful, you can find yourself in a management post but lack the ability to lead.
If that happens, your underlings may grow to resent you. If they do, it’s going to hurt your performance, and possibly hamstring your career aspirations relatively early.
A new study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior provides a look at some of the potential fallout. Researchers Florian Kunze and Jochen Menges gathered data from 61 companies in Germany and surveyed around 8,000 workers for the study. They wanted to look at the intricacies of the relationships between company leadership and employees, particularly in which a large age gap was present. Then, they wanted to see how those relationships affected performance.
“We propose that the average age differences determine how frequently older subordinates and their coworkers experience negative emotions, and that these emotion frequency levels in turn relate to company performance,” the researchers wrote.
A softer approach to leadership?
As expected, there was a negative relationship. That is, employees with younger supervisors experienced more negative feelings and emotions, and that translated to lost productivity and bad performance.
If you’re a manager, that’s bad news — if your employees aren’t performing, it means you’re not doing your job. If you’re young and in a management position? This study shows that you might be in more trouble than you thought. And if you have a track record of failing, starting relatively early in your career? It might get harder and harder to convince your own bosses to give you more chances.
That’s not to say you’re totally screwed, though. There are plenty of successful young executives, business leaders, and entrepreneurs out there. But you should still keep in mind that there are some underlying psychological factors at play with some employees. Particularly if you’re several years younger than they are.
So, how can you avoid that tension? Are there ways you can earn the respect of your older colleagues if you find yourself in a position of power?
Naturally, it starts with earning their respect. If you are put into a leadership position without having earned it, at least in the eyes of your colleagues, they’re not going to respect you. That means you need to show that you’re willing to work hard, stay late, get there early, and get dirty like everybody else. There are many methods to earn respect at work — you’ll just need to find ways to put them into practice.
You don’t want to end up like Ryan Howard, and certainly not like Joffrey (spoiler alert!).