When you’re running a business in your 20’s, you’re often managing employees who are years older than you and, in some situations, colleagues with decades more experience.
When I started building The Global Good Fund, people had difficulty seeing me as the decision maker of the company because my co-founder is four decades my senior, not to mention extremely accomplished. During meetings, questions and commentary were often directed toward my colleague instead of to me. There I’d be, facing someone’s back while she directed the conversation to my colleague – not exactly the dialogue I strived for.
I was initially frustrated by these repeated occurrences. But I eventually stopped focusing on the problem, opting to proactively change my mindset and how I presented myself. Amazingly, those tweaks changed how people reacted to my leadership.
Here are my 3 tips that will help entrepreneurs be seen as respected business leaders – at any age:
1. Develop a strategic seating arrangement for meetings
Instead of getting frustrated when people directed their questions to my colleague in meetings, I got creative with seating arrangements. Originally, my colleague and I would sit on either side of the person we were interacting with. By doing so, we effectively forced the person we were speaking with to choose one of us to look at since it would have been awkward to look back and forth. Now we know better. We position ourselves with me seated closest to our guest and my colleague seated on my other side. Then if questions are still directed to my colleague, it is an easy and natural transition for him to hand off the conversation to me without making things awkward.
2. Be responsible for follow-ups after a meeting
Not only does a tactical seating arrangement help your cause as a young leader in meetings, but you also want to be seen as the leader after you leave the room. If there are certain people directing their comments and questions to a more experienced member of your team (instead of you), make a point to be the responsible party to follow-up with these individuals after the meeting. Send them a quick email answering their question, send them a news article related to a topic they brought up in the meeting, or just a simple “thank you” note for joining the meeting.
By creating dialogue outside of the initial conversation, you increase your chances of leading future dialogue.
3. Know your audience and respect generational differences
As an entrepreneur, it is incredibly important to gauge your audience and help make them feel as comfortable as possible. Part of this reality requires deference to their needs and preferences.
When interacting with experienced professionals, take note of their dress code preference and follow it. My team at The Global Good Fund is mostly comprised of young professionals who work with experienced leaders, often in corporate settings. When we have meetings with such audiences, we dress conservatively (jackets, dress shoes, etc.) to help bridge the generational gap and make everyone feel at ease. The last thing we want is for an experienced professional to question our judgment because we wore flip flops to work.
As intimidating as it may be to play the role of CEO as a young entrepreneur, it is important to remember that you became a CEO for a reason: You have the talent and skills to start the company of your dreams. All you need is the confidence to run with it.
One unique trait that younger leaders have is the openness and enthusiasm to take on new experiences and challenges. We are resilient to change and embrace the unknown.
I remind my team that “nobody will invest in you more than yourself,” so take pride in what you do and present yourself in a way that others have faith in you as well.
Your Turn: Are you a young CEO? How do you effectively manage and work with more experienced colleagues? Please share your tips in the Comments section!
Carrie Rich is the co-founder and CEO of The Global Good Fund, an organization dedicated to investing in the leadership development of high potential young entrepreneurs committed to social impact. Carrie enjoys photography, other people’s cooking and jogging, on occasion.
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