Managers under 30 are best at balancing employee engagement and results, research shows.

By Andrew Nusca
June 20, 2017

Do you want to be the kind of leader that gets solid results from your team?

Or do you prefer being the kind of leader that fosters high engagement?

These things aren’t zero sum, of course—and we can all agree that the best leaders do both. According to new research from Zenger/Folkman, a leadership development consultancy in Orem, Utah, the demographic best at balancing these two ideals tends to be younger.

Much younger.

“We found that younger leaders excelled in this ability to run an effective and fun team environment,” wrote Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman in Harvard Business Review. “We found that leaders who were under 30 years of age were two to three times as likely to be effective at both results and engagement than their older compatriots. Nearly one-third of the group under 30 years of age achieved both priorities well. Around age 40, it seems, leaders appear to have made their choice between being results driven or interpersonally strong. From there forward, only 10% of leaders in any age group would do both things well.”

Why the disconnect? Zenger and Folkman posit that younger people “place a heavier value” on work relationships—that is, they’re more interested in making them personal. Older workers seem more likely to prefer separation of their work and personal lives. “Perhaps older colleagues feel less of a need to rely on soft skills, assuming that colleagues will be influenced by their greater experience,” the executives add.

But age isn’t the only factor influencing your management style. Zenger and Folkman note that position matters, too. A supervisor—the lowest rung on the management ladder, behind middle managers, senior leaders, and top management—is much more likely to excel at both results and engagement compared to a senior manager, according to their research. “We did see some decline in both skills with age,” they write, “but people skills declined more than drive for results as leaders moved from supervisor to top management.”

So what’s an older or more powerful manager to do? According to the authors, brush up on your people skills that may be inadvertently declining. Combined with that drive for results, the pair are “a powerful combination that has a dramatic impact on a leader’s effectiveness.” Enough said.

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