As young professionals move into leadership roles, they may find themselves managing older team members.
Sept. 2, 2019
The increasing number of young professionals entering business aviation also means that more of these younger workers are entering management roles.
“Data shows us the average age for pilots is now 53 years old, 51 for aviation maintenance technicians and 42 for the rest of the workforce,” said Brian Koester, NBAA’s senior manager of flight operations and regulations. “That’s a pretty significant deviation from the mean, and it leads to an opportunity for younger workers to move into managerial positions.”
With that opportunity also comes the likelihood that younger workers may find themselves managing older peers with many more years of experience in the industry, understandably leading to some misgivings and awkwardness as both sides of the “generation gap” adapt to the workplace’s new normal.
“Years ago, when I got my first management job, it was the norm that people would be judged on age,” said Jonathan Gill, founder and managing director of Signum Aviation. “From that experience I decided that when I founded my own company at 21, we would encourage a broad range of ages. I hope similar attitudes have become more common elsewhere, as well.”
Leon Holloway, enterprise human resource manager for Duncan Aviation, said older workers may hold misperceptions about the skills and abilities of their younger peers.
“They may believe that millennials are lazy or aren’t willing to invest the time needed to ascend in their jobs,” he explained. “It’s important to move past stereotypes and biases on both sides and get to a place where we can have an open discussion about our differences and create a workforce designed to spark individual accountability, self-awareness and connectivity.”
Abandoning such preconceived notions also is vital so that all generations of workers can help move their companies forward.
“It comes down to respect for everyone,” Gill said. “Age is just a number; what is really needed is a passion for aviation, enthusiasm and willingness to learn. We’ll sort out the rest.”
COLLABORATION IS KEY
Establishing common ground is one key aspect to managing workers from different generations. That said, it’s also important to acknowledge that younger workers may approach their jobs with markedly different attitudes than their older associates.
“Millennials tend to move faster,” said Chris Quiocho, owner of Offland Media who also served 16 years as an aviation officer in the U.S. Army. “It’s a byproduct of technology that they process information more quickly, are used to having all the resources at their fingertips and access it all with the swipe of a finger.”
That may also lead to differences in interpersonal skills.
“The greatest challenge is adapting to different communication styles,” Holloway said. “Younger workers are more familiar with social media and speak in acronyms, while mature workers use full sentences and prefer face-to-face communications. It’s important to know your audience.
“That even extends to how I schedule meetings,” continued Holloway.
“I’m mindful of the time needed for employees to join the meeting from both onsite and remote locations, and I’m careful about how I use PowerPoint and other traditional meeting tools. Attention spans are different, and we need to be okay with that.”
Quiocho emphasized that both sides share responsibility for determining the path forward for their department.
“Older workers should appreciate their mentorship role and realize there’s a lot they can do to support their younger peers and help them become successful,” he said. “We all want to be better, and both sides should be open to what the other brings to the table.
“There are myths that millennials are self-centered and disloyal,” Quiocho continued. “Our career goals may be different, and we’re able to get instantaneous feedback on social media. People always want to know when they’re doing a good job.”
“Millennial workers should learn to see the experiences and wisdom offered by senior workers, and our senior workers must learn to be open to fresh perspectives and innovation offered by the millennial workers,” Quiocho added. “They must engage in a conversation and be willing to share their perspectives equally.”
“Another example is that millennials prefer to work remotely two to three days a week, which allows for a work-life balance between collaborating at work and concentrating at home. Whereas senior workers typically would rather have a traditional office environment of impromptu interactions with their peers and to be more connected culturally. Both examples add value to moving the organization forward,” Quiocho concluded.
FOSTERING MUTUAL RESPECT, BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS
YoPros should also recognize that fostering open communication may also help them navigate any initial unease about being placed in a position of authority over their more-experienced coworkers.
“It’s all about building a relationship,” Gill said. “Be yourself, accept those differences and look at the benefits. Each side of the generational gap views things in a different way, and that diversity is a positive, not a negative.”
“You’re understandably excited when you’re first placed into a leadership position, and with that comes some anxiety that you haven’t been adequately prepared,” Quiocho said. “It’s a matter of confidence, being open-minded and recognizing your employees or reports are resources who are subject-matter experts in their areas. It’s your job to set expectations and hold your team accountable; remember, you’re there for a reason and you should be confident in your abilities.”
That is also true of older workers in management roles over younger employees, and tales of what may occur when such attitudes aren’t followed are also common.
HONEST FEEDBACK NEEDED
“Regardless of the generational gap, mutual trust, honest feedback/communication and respect must be the core focus of any relationship,” Holloway said. “Accountability is played out through our many interactions every day, thus the reason we all crave the desire to be valued and the need to feel our contributions matter to those we work with and those we work for.”
“I think it’s easier for older generations to discount experience because of age, but that is not insurmountable,” Quiocho said. “Instead of asserting authority by making unilateral decisions, put yourself in their shoes and solicit their feedback. Ask your team to describe their duties and make suggestions. Foster collaboration, instead of managing through dictates.”
Gill noted that he benefited early on from the mentorship of an older coworker.
“I was 15 when I got my first weekend job at an FBO,” Gill said. “A really kind individual there invested his time in teaching me the ropes, and I’ve never forgotten that.
“In fact, it’s now come full circle; he’s now our operations manager, and he works with our new starts,” Gill concluded. “This is a fantastic industry for such stories.”