HuffPost - The challenges of being the young boss - Michelle Gibbings

I was asked by the Huffington Post recently for my thoughts on the challenges of being a young boss. I believe that young leaders shouldn’t try to over-compensate or apologise for being the youngest in the team. They should be practicing leadership skills that are important to leaders of any age – get to know your team, understand their motivation and uncover their skills.

You can read the full article on the Huffington Post website, here.

Twenty-two year-old Sharndre Kushor founded her business Crimson Education not long after she left high school.

Her idea, to help talented young people get into the world’s most prestigious universities, started with a tiny budget and has grown to a global network of tutors and mentors with a staff of 150.

When Kushor was building her team it meant hiring people 20 or 30 years her senior. Kushor told HuffPost Australia there have been times when people will make assumptions about your ability to achieve your goals based on your age.

“But the most important thing is being able to show results, no matter what your age. It becomes much easier to gain people’s trust once you can demonstrate the value in what you’re doing,” Kushor said.

“When you’re a young founder, there are challenges that you’ll experience for the first time which means that you have to be able to recognise when you need help. You’ll need to be excited by the idea of working with people who are older and more experienced than you.”

“For me, it’s exciting to be able to hire and work with people who are industry experts and can help Crimson to be the best it can be.”

Brynn Davies, the young founder and CEO of Lunchbox often has to remind herself to have confidence in situations where she’s the youngest female.

Davies told HuffPost Australia it’s it’s not about how older team members act but what an individuals’ socially-fostered self-doubt or insecurity brings to conflict situations.

“If you’re addressing someone ten years your senior in a situation in which you have to assert your position as a boss, it can be incredibly intimidating, especially if they’re also a strong personality. Often, we feel like we haven’t earned the position to be instructing them, or feel that we’re being perceived as pushy, arrogant, domineering women rather than, quite simply, acting like a boss,” Davies said.

“A young male in a similar role is, if not well-liked, at least respected as ambitious, driven, confident – the same behaviour in young women can be misconstrued as bitchy.”

Davies’ team is mostly made up of people older than she is and she said they are all incredibly supportive of her.

“However, in situations in which I find myself the youngest, or the youngest and only female in a room full of people in similar positions, I’m immediately faced with a sense of automatically being on the back foot,” Davies said.

Leadership expert Michelle Gibbings told HuffPost Australia young leaders shouldn’t try to over-compensate or be apologetic for the fact they’re the youngest in the team.

“Like all good leaders, seek your team members’ input. Take the time to get to know them, understand what motivates them and uncover the skills they bring to their role. Work with your team to develop a shared vision for what you want to achieve together,” Gibbings said.

“Make sure you discuss how each person plays a key part in making that happen. When you lead well, your age becomes irrelevant.”

Gibbings believes every team member brings a different range of skills to the table, and it’s essential for leaders to understand the value they deliver.

“People want to feel valued, respected and to have the work they do recognised and appreciated, regardless of their age.”

Brynn Davies often reminds herself, as ‘the boss’, she deserves to present herself strongly.

“I often find myself removing apologetic language from emails and texts and phone conversations. Young people, especially young women, often feel they have more to prove and must work harder in order to establish themselves on the same level as those in similar roles,” Davies said.

“This is regardless of the environment in the room, or how we are addressed by our peers – often, it’s a learned behaviour and self-image we must work to overcome.”