For Young Managers, it’s not Just About Gaining the Respect of Subordinates
One of the most common questions from our readers concerns how they as younger managers can lead older subordinates – all while maintaining respect and sanity. Where we felt we could help, we’ve provided these youthful leaders advice and guidance as recently as last month when we responded to a question posed by a reader named Sourabh from Mumbai, IN. He was curious how he could convince a firm he was interviewing with to hire him despite his age. Prior to that, we’ve explored possibilities for other young leaders in responses dealing with young business owners, leading grizzled older subordinates, and also how a young manager can keep from being run over. Recently, a new reader found our site and posed her own questions after exploring our advice about how a first time manager can gain respect:
Hi, I stumbled across this site as I was searching for some help. … I am not only the manager but the youngest technician at my company. … I work in a small family owned salon where everyone is on top of each other all the time. Here are my concerns that I am hoping you will be able to help me with:
As I mentioned, I am the manager of the salon but unfortunately I don’t get any respect from some of the older employees as well as the employees that are around my age (25). It seems that no matter what I ask them to do or how I say it, as soon as my back is turned I am a “bitch” etc. My requests usually go ignored until the very few times I have yelled at my employees. Which trust me is not many. I have worked for people that were demeaning and constantly yelling and my goal when getting this position was to be assertive but fair and never intimidating. It is getting to the point where if things don’t change I might snap.
I know I am young but I put in more paid and unpaid hours into the salon than any other employee. I work really hard to make us the thriving spa we are becoming and it frustrates me when people cannot reciprocate. I spend the majority of my time (when I am not with my own clients) ordering the supplies that the techs need, coming up with marketing ideas to make their books more solid, building our website, etc. But all I get back is arguments over why they have to do this special for the price I gave them when they want to charge more, or complaints when things they need aren’t ordered (they usually don’t tell me what they need I have to figure it out myself).
I am becoming resentful because I feel like I am constantly doing for them with no respect being given back to me. With the employees that are my age I am just blatantly ignored or told I am being a bitch. But when everyone wants something i.e. to leave early or come in late the next day all the sudden they are calling me “Miss Manager…”
How do I get the respect I not only desire but deserve?
My boss is way too nice to everyone. It really is out of control. I love her and consider her a great friend but at the same time my role as manager has been blurred by her as well. Sometimes I feel like I am not the manager just her personal assistant. She doesn’t want me to reprimand employees when it needs to happen.
How do I establish with her what my role as manager is?
I have asked her this question before with no real answer. I don’t think it’s fair for me to be telling the staff what to do but unable to say anything when things are not getting done. It would be one thing if she dealt with the issues but she is way too nice for that. I get upset because the employees take advantage of her and I don’t like watching that happen without being able to do anything about it.
Please help!!! – MM, USA
Ms. MM, may we call you M? Our apologies on the length of time it took to effort a response, but your questions were so specific and your situation so intriguing that we wanted to ensure we got this one right. (Not that we don’t try to answer all questions correctly, it’s just that you so completely described your issues that we felt compelled to reciprocate just as completely.)
We’ll tackle your issues and questions one at a time, and in the order you presented them…
I work in a small family owned salon where everyone is on top of each other all the time.
It’s always easier to manage large than it is to manage small. We often laugh when we hear about the tremendous “leadership” provided by this Fortune 500 CEO or that one – when you’re armed with a seemingly unlimited budget, surrounded by Yale and Harvard MBAs and staffed with more Administrative Assistants than Congress, you’re going to have very little trouble executing – provided, of course, that you have a brain, a plan and your ego in check.
Contrast this to a young manager trying to get the most from a group of high school graduates and having to do all the heavy lifting herself. It’s clearly easier to manage large and we feel your pain, MM.
It seems that no matter what I ask them to do or how I say it, as soon as my back is turned I am a “bitch” etc. My requests usually go ignored until the very few times I have yelled at my employees.
On the surface, it seems to us that there is no consequence for either insubordination or inaction by the employees. People yell when they are out of options, and if there were consequences at your workplace, you would certainly never have to yell.
Our advice here is two-fold. First, never yell again. When you lose your cool with someone you are telling the world that you are not in control and that you can be controlled by others. In your case, you are ceding your power to your employees and they are likely getting a big laugh at your expense. Second, it’s time to sit down with the owner and create your version of an operations manual. This manual need not be fancy, but it must detail the policies and procedures for the company, and especially the consequences for poor behavior. (Of course, no business rules are worthwhile if they’re not enforced.)
I work really hard to make us the thriving spa we are becoming and it frustrates me when people cannot reciprocate. I spend the majority of my time (when I am not with my own clients) ordering the supplies that the techs need, coming up with marketing ideas to make their books more solid, building our website, etc. But all I get back is arguments…
This piece of advice is probably going to seem odd, but it might be time to empower this team to make many of their own decisions. Where possible, ask the techs to carry some of the weight. For example, if you like to order supplies on Fridays, then create and distribute a simple Supply Order Form to everyone on Wednesday, and ask them to tell you what they need by Thursday night. Those who fail to order the proper quantities and run out could be docked the express shipping charges or the retail price difference required to get their supplies in on time.
For the marketing decisions, encourage all complainers to provide you with what they would like to see next month. Do this in a non-confrontational, sincere manner in front of everyone, and be sure to give serious thought to their ideas. If you choose to implement one of their marketing schemes, be sure to let everyone know before, during and after the promotion that the idea came from so-and-so by thanking them regularly. They will likely take ownership and do everything in their power to make sure it is a success.
But when everyone wants something i.e. to leave early or come in late the next day all the sudden they are calling me “Miss Manager…”
There’s a Latin term that applies to this situation, M: Quid pro quo. Literally, this means “something for something,” and in business it means “scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” Each time one of your charges is looking for a special favor, you have a golden opportunity to do some coaching.
If the employee is the loyal, hardworking sort, then you grant their favor (when possible) and you reinforce their good behavior by saying something like “I have no problem letting someone who accomplishes so much go home early now and then.”
When the person requesting the favor is someone who has made your life miserable, you should take time to explain some of your needs before deciding whether or not to grant their request. For example, you might say something like “I appreciate that you would like to arrive late tomorrow, though I think you’d agree that allowing special treatment to someone who rarely cleans up their own work station sends a bad signal to the rest of the team. If you were in my shoes, what would you do?”
How do I get the respect I not only desire but deserve?
This, M, might be the real question. Certainly, we feel that if you’re able to incorporate the advice we’ve provided so far, you will begin to build respect with your team. Of course, respect is a lot like love: The more you give, the more you get.
Make a pact with yourself to begin each day by respecting your team. This means listening to their ideas (especially the hair-brained ones), and soliciting their opinions about the company’s direction on issues that are important to them (even if you don’t care). As you begin to respect them, they will (eventually) begin to respect you.
While this is a great first step, the behavior of your team could very well be only a symptom of the real problem. From what we can gather from your comments, the underlying problem you face likely has more to do with your relationship with the owner than it does your relationship with your team.
The Real Question is How to Gain the Owner’s Respect
Let’s get some facts about someone who owns their own company on the table: Right or wrong, the owner is the boss. The goal of every company is to make money for the owner. If the owner is crazy and wants you to waste money, for example, you have two choices: Get another job or waste the money. It’s not passive aggressive behavior to give the owner what they want – even if it’s not in their best interest. This is not to say that you shouldn’t attempt to do what’s right; though in the end the owner is the owner and you are just an employee. If the owner wants to allow people to take advantage of her, that is her prerogative (and not your concern). Like the customer, the owner is not always right, but they are always the owner.
M, your issues may appear like they start and end with your subordinates, but in fact, they seem to be caused by the company owner. In our opinion, you are suffering from a lack of respect for your leadership from your boss; and this lack of respect transfers onto your fellow employees. Now, before you march into her office and demand some R-E-S-P-E-C-T, you need to understand that the owner’s behavior is consistent with someone who wants to please everyone. In her effort to please her employees, she is unwittingly minimizing your authority.
How do I establish with her what my role as manager is?
While the owner certainly thinks you’re qualified, she has likely been continually undercutting you since the day you were promoted – and all of this undermining was occurring without her knowledge. She possibly has no idea what she’s doing, and that’s why we think it might be time to have a very serious, though friendly, meeting with her.
We suggest you seek the guidance of others before acting, though our advice is to sit down with the owner at an offsite location (to minimize distractions) and to ask her a few pointed questions. In a concerned, friendly tone, you may want to ask her:
- Do you value me as a leader?
- Do you believe I possess the necessary skills to manage the team?
- Do you think I am capable of growing the business?
- What are your expectations of my roles and responsibilities?
- What are your goals for the business and how do you see my role in that?
Based on her answers to these questions, you should know where you stand. If the meeting is going well, you may want to finish with a simple statement about how much you love working for her, how much you respect her, but how you sometimes believe her leadership style is diminishing your effectiveness as a manager. Explain to her that in order for there to be rules, there must be consequences. Without consequences, or her backing, you will not have the respect of the employees.
Not surprisingly, once the owner begins to respect your leadership, so will the employees. Unfortunately, this reverse is also true (as you discover every day). On the bright side, if your boss chooses to keep the status quo, you can mimic her style and become “too nice” in an effort to win over your charges. Because it’s always easier to change your style from “strict” to “relaxed” than the other way around, you stand a good chance of still becoming a semi-effective leader even without your boss’ respect.