Your team is your parents’ age. Can you win their respect? by Anne Fisher @FortuneMagazine October 3, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT E-mail Tweet Facebook Google Plus Linkedin Share icons Dear Annie: I was interested in your recent answer to a newbie manager in his 20s on how to be a good boss because I’m in the same position. I’m 28 and was recently put in charge of a brand management project where everyone else is much older than I am and, since I have no real experience as a leader, it’s been weird. The hardest part is that everyone who reports to me is roughly my parents’ age, late 40s to mid-50s, and certain people never miss a chance to point that out. I have one team member who keeps saying, “You remind me so much of my daughter!” Do you or your readers have any ideas about how to be taken seriously? — Kansas City Kid Dear K.C. Kid: “The first thing is, don’t take yourself too seriously,” says Todd Berger. “Trying to lead with a heavy hand won’t work.” Berger has been in your shoes. He started as an entry-level dispatcher with a logistics firm at age 21. Four years later, he persuaded higher-ups to expand the company into the trucking business. Then he launched an in-house contract logistics management service. Now, at age 35, Berger is president and CEO of Chicago-based Transportation Solutions Enterprises, a $300 million holding company that owns the other three. TSE has tripled its workforce, to about 400, in the past five years and plans to hire about 200 more people by year-end. On his way to the top job, Berger faced plenty of skepticism from older colleagues. Every once in a while, he still does. “My executive team now is seven people, all over 50,” he says. Six of those senior managers are recent hires, chosen for their experience. When they speak, Berger listens. “They’re seasoned industry leaders,” he says. “I’d be foolish not to listen to them.” He recommends you do likewise. Twenty-something bosses often think they’re supposed to know everything. “When I was in my 20s, I tried to change the people who reported to me,” he recalls. “I had good intentions—I wanted everyone to be the best they could be—but older employees, who often really did know more than I did about the business, pushed back.” Instead of leaning on them, he says, “I learned not to try to change anyone. Instead, learn from their strengths.” Here’s how Berger says he won over his older coworkers. Be open to ideas and suggestions. “One of my team members when I was in my mid-20s was a former Marine who came up through the trucking business and had 30-some years’ experience,” he says. “We had some colorful conversations. We debated everything from customer service to technology. And I’m still having those discussions with people.” The goal is to blend different approaches until you find what works best. “Nobody’s good at everything or knows everything,” Berger adds. “If you listen to people, they’ll be willing to listen to you, too.” Try making a personal connection. “Humans are humans at any age,” Berger says. “So you can almost always find something you have in common.” Berger goes to football games with fellow sports fans at his company, and older colleagues’ grandchildren spend time with his two kids of the same age, but even “just finding some common ground with coworkers, and talking about that, makes the age difference seem a lot less important.” Help others succeed. “Keep the ultimate goal in mind, which is for the project to succeed and the whole company to do well,” he suggests. “At the same time, sit down with each team member and talk about his or her long-term career plans. If you as the boss can help people grow, and even find or create opportunities for them to make more money, you can build a lot of loyalty and respect. People like to win.” Not bad ideas for any manager, actually. But because of your age, you may also just have to be a little bit patient. “When you keep demonstrating competence and delivering results consistently over time,” says Berger, “eventually you will get respect.” Good luck. Talkback: Have you ever worked for someone much younger than you, or managed someone much older? How did it work out? Leave a comment below. Have a career question for Anne Fisher? Email email@example.com.