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5 Things you Need to Know as a Young Finance Leader

5 Things You Should Know as a Younger Finance Leader

One of the biggest challenges you can face as a leader is taking on responsibility for a team of individuals who are older, or more experienced, than you. Rightly or wrongly, comparative age matters when it comes to leadership – from the perspective of those who need to be “led”, and also from those who entrust you to “lead”. Prevailing negative perceptions at all levels of an organisation can challenge younger leaders, causing lack of trust and respect, and inhibiting ability to succeed.

Therefore, to be successful, it’s important that as a younger finance leader, you are aware of the negative perceptions others may have of you. And even more importantly – that you use that awareness to shape your professional development.

#1 Build respect and address a common perception of a lack of experience by remaining true to your niche

Zenger and Folkman, in their recent HBR article “What Younger Managers Should Know About How They’re Perceived” found a number of themes in the negative perceptions surrounding younger leaders: lack of trust, lack of experience and depth of knowledge, not seeing younger leaders as role models and not being capable of strategic vision or representing the organisation effectively. As a younger leader, understanding the reasoning behind this is essential rather than just brushing it off – as invariably, lack of experience and depth of knowledge is a reality, not just a perception. So as a younger leader, ensuring you do not make singlehanded or poorly considered decisions on areas outside of your niche, reigning in the temptation to make promises you cannot keep, and working with a mentor to effectively deal with difficult conversations is absolutely vital.

#2 Be acutely aware of your weaknesses and remain on top of them through professional development

Just as importantly as focusing on your strengths in order to build trust and prove to your team why you have been selected as a leader, you must also attend to your weaknesses. As mentioned above the ability to own difficult conversations is a common weakness in younger leaders, as are presentation and communication skills. Focusing on any professional development opportunities, either in-house or externally, that can support you to improve in these areas will really assist – as will building EI capacity (emotional intelligence), in order to connect authentically with your reports.

#3 Take the time to understand the difference between your priorities and the priorities of other generations

If you’re a Gen-Y, or Millennial, this will certainly apply to you. Zenger and Folkman found that one of the biggest disconnect between younger leaders and their teams was a perceived insensitivity to other’s needs. You may think nothing of early-starts, late-finishes and weekend homework, but your team might. Taking the time to consider the impact of your very Gen-Y expectations on older members of your team as a generational issue, not a lack of commitment, is essential to making it work.

#4 Capitalise on your positioning as a “new” leader to drive change, innovation and continuous improvement

One positive that you can leverage from being a younger leader is the perception others will have that your leadership itself is a challenge to the status quo. As a “younger” force, ensure you use your position to drive the change you’ve been hired, or promoted to deliver. One thing that Zenger and Folkman found as a major pro of young leaders is an ability to successfully embrace and market change, as a result of a more optimistic and energetic outlook than elder members of the team.

#5 Leverage others attempts to mentor you – you don’t know everything yet

As a final thought, an often-overlooked benefit of being a younger leader is the willingness of more experienced leaders to take you “under their wing”. Although you might be keen to prove yourself on your own input, consider what you can gain from others. Working with official and unofficial mentors is an important part of any leader’s development, and the more support you can utilise the better, especially if they too have been a younger leader. Critically – don’t try and do it all on your own.

Read more: Zenger, J., and Folkman, J., “What Younger Managers Should Know About How They’re Perceived” HBR

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