You’re the Boss. Will They Listen?

Congratulations! Your startup is getting off the ground. Prospects are calling, sales are rising, and real money is trickling through the door. If things keep up like this, you’re going to need to hire some people who actually know what they’re doing; driven as you are, you can’t possibly do everything necessary to keep your business running.

You know what you need to do next, but what comes after that? What happens six or nine months into your new finance guy’s gig when you ask him to take the lead on some mission-critical project and he responds dismissively because he’s years older than you? What’s a young boss to do?

Start with these straightforward tips for how to manage your elders:

Take a Hands-On Approach to Recruiting

In the beginning, this will happen as a matter of course. As one of the only people working for your company, you’ll necessarily interview each new candidate yourself. As your company grows, it’ll be easier to delegate recruiting to your emerging HR department, and they’ll hopefully do a great job.

Don’t completely detach yourself from hiring, though. Take the time to personally vet candidates for each mission-critical role, especially those who’ll own entire processes or departments. Start building relationships during the interview and on-boarding phases, making sure that each candidate feels like a valued member of the team — and that you need their skills just as much as they need their jobs.

Make It Clear That You Don’t Have All the Answers

You don’t want to come off like a clueless boss, but you also can’t afford to seem like a know-it-all — especially when you’re young enough to be your subordinates’ kid. When you bring someone new onboard, make sure they understand that you can’t do their job better than they can. Ask questions, invite them to tackle vexing problems, and give them space to manage their spheres as they see fit.

Stake a Claim to Your Own Expertise

You don’t have to come right out and tell your more mature underlings that “age is just a number and I’m the boss” to make the point loud and clear. From the beginning, make sure your subordinates understand that despite your lack of wrinkles and dearth of specialized knowledge in whatever process you’ve hired them to own, you have a legitimate claim to your own area of expertise: figuring out how to get things done.

In other words, though the experience you accumulate as a real-world business owner is necessarily more diffuse than what you’d learn in law school or accounting class, it’s no less relevant to the work at hand.

Remember, it’s essential to collaborate with these employees on equal footing, leveraging their expertise and drawing on your own hard-won experience whenever appropriate. It’s not always easy, but that’s why you’re the boss.

Coach Up, Coach Out

Career track management is a double-edged sword. You need to provide ample professional development opportunities for employees up and down the ladder, particularly expert-level workers who can’t easily be replaced. Team members who feel like there’s no room to grow at your company won’t stick around to find out.

Likewise, you need to recognize when a particular subordinate is no longer contributing to your company’s growth or goal-setting, and determine whether you’d be better off with or without them in the future. If it’s the latter, it’s your responsibility to coach them out of the organization.