Older Direct Report Doesn’t Respect You as Their Younger Manager? Ask Madeleine


Dear Madeleine,

I am 25, super organized, and I have no problem being direct. On the CliftonStrengths® assessment I come out as having high self-assurance. People just assume I am in charge even when I am not—officially. As a result, I have been given opportunities to lead all the way back to my first job.

Most recently I have been a team lead in a fast-moving technology startup for about 18 months. The company is experimenting with different types of leadership growth paths. One approach the company has adopted is treating new management opportunities as just another job; not a promotion per se, but a “tour of duty.” I wanted to give it a shot, so I signed up to be considered. To my surprise, about six months ago I was assigned five people to “officially” manage―but without a lot of training to go with the official designation. I was given training on how to use the goal setting and performance management system, but that’s it.

I would appreciate your overall guidance on next steps for a new manager, but I am also hoping you can help with an immediate problem. One of my “people” (they don’t really technically report to me, so I don’t even know what to call them) is old enough to be my mother, and she isn’t taking this new deal seriously. Her attitude is condescending; she literally laughed in my face at our first meeting and has blown off all subsequent meetings.

How can I shift this situation?

They Call me The Kid

Dear Kid,

Well, I am old enough to be your mother, too―and I say, “Go, Kid!” Clearly your organization has decided to let you sink or swim on your own, so I will do my best to help you figure it out.

The first thing to do is educate yourself on the nature of the matrix organization. This system of reporting to two or more managers isn’t a new concept, but apparently it is still wreaking havoc. Understanding the context of the system you are operating in will help you.

Next, establish a framework for how to do a good job as a new manager. For that, I offer you an eBook that Blanchard created based on our First Time Manager class. The book gives you four skills to sharpen and teaches you to master four kinds of conversations that will give you a solid foundation for day-to-day management.

As for your cranky new managee―for lack of a better word―I think you just have to name it and claim it with her. Tell the truth about how absurd it is for someone who is 25 to “manage” someone in their fifties who has been around the block a number of times. Say something like, “Look, I know this is ridiculous, but it is an experiment, and we are both in it together, so let’s figure it out together.”

Ask questions:

• If this is to work out perfectly for you, what would that look like?
• If I did a great job for you, what would I be doing?
• What can we both do that will set us up for a win right now?
• Would you be willing to craft a way of succeeding with me?

Be clear that your intentions are good and that you are eager to learn and be useful. She may continue to laugh at you, but if you can laugh along with her, it may at least get you on the same page.

If she still won’t give you the time of day, then I guess you must let the chips fall where they may. You can only reach out the hand and make the effort, the rest will be up to her.

Your Clifton Self-Assurance Strength will certainly come in handy. It will help you to go boldly into the unknown and recover quickly when you make mistakes. The key will be not to get too cocky or believe your own good press (too much). As long as you “take your work seriously, but yourself lightly,” as Ken Blanchard says, you will do just fine.

Love, Madeleine

About the author

Madeleine Blanchard Headshot 10-21-17

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!


About the Author

Madeleine Homan Blanchard

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a Master Certified Coach and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. She is coauthor of Blanchard’s Coaching Essentials training program, and several books including Leverage Your Best, Ditch the Rest, Coaching in Organizations, and Coaching for Leadership.

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