Increasing elderly people and declining birth rate around the world means that winning the support of older people is important in every country. International best practice management tells us that you need to manage upwards, downwards and sideways. Covering all bases includes managing employees older than you, wherever they may be in your business. Developing your EQ to empathise with all employees is key to business success and personal relationships. When faced with managing in Asia there are also cultural undercurrents. These may be obvious to locals, but more difficult for Expats to see and to understand.
Diversity of age, gender, race, religion and more is beneficial for business because if properly leveraged, it breeds creativity, critical thinking and intelligent debate. It can also breed conflict.
Baby boomers and Millennials co-habit the same work spaces. Different character traits, aspirations and motivations can create a melting pot. Effectively managing different generations, with different characteristics and employment experiences, requires different management skills for different employees’ identities.
Baby boomer characteristics:
Effective people management skills also depend on your employees’ positions in your company.
Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. Managing an older gentleman or an older lady in a leadership position may involve different strategies. Making your boss ‘look good’ is important whatever their gender. Research in to women in leadership by Prof. Jean Lee, CEIBS, found that, in China, female and male leaders who do not fit into age-old gender stereotypes are called 女汉子 (tough woman) and 暖男 (sensitive man). Who has more success when it comes to interacting with subordinates: the strong and aggressive type or the one who’s sensitive and calm? The research concludes the leader who is ‘androgynous’, displaying both masculine and feminine characteristics. The research goes in to depth finding, ‘Androgynous leaders, whether biologically male or female, are found to be consistently effective in the eyes of subordinates. The interesting finding from CEIBS Leadership Behavioral Laboratory is that androgynous subordinates are attracted to androgynous leaders, with whom they share similar traits.’
Continuing to probe this theme the research finds that, ‘On the other hand, leaders considered high in masculine qualities fit better with subordinates who have high feminine qualities. This shows that opposites attract. We see the worst results when we have leaders and subordinates with undifferentiated gender identities, meaning they are mutually low in both masculine and feminine traits. In those cases, the subordinate will see the leader as less than effective, will be less satisfied and also less willing to put in extra effort at work.’
Experience never gets old. It just gets outdated. In the recent movie, starring Robert De Niro, a seventy-year-old widower Ben Whittaker applies to a senior citizen intern programme in a fast-growing e-commerce fashion startup. Ben is assigned to work with the CEO, Jules, who is somewhat skeptical at first. Initially frozen out by her, Ben slowly wins over co-workers with his congeniality and gets into Jules’s good books. Ben goes the extra mile going to the office extra early to organize a messy desk that Jules had complained about previously. After work, Ben also replaces Jules’s chauffeur and drives Jules home himself, a role he retains. Ben also becomes something of a father figure to several of the younger workers; by offering advice about issues such as love, dress sense and work/life balance. He provides another with a place to stay. Jules decides to hire a prospective replacement for herself as CEO. Ben greatly encourages Jules to think about how much this will change her own authority and how her creativity may be hindered and also reminds her of her passion for her company.
How to effectively manage employees who are older than you depends, partly, on how androgynous they, and you, are. It also depends on how big the age gap is. Culture runs through everything in a regional business. You can manage employees older than yourself and you can let yourself be managed by employees older than you. Managing people requires empathy. Developing your EQ is the bottom line for all aspects of business life.