The vulnerable relationship between a young CEO and Gen X C-suite

There are a couple of things that CEOs in their 20s should keep in mind while dealing with senior leaders who possess more than 20 years of experience.

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Two decades back, the word ‘CEO’ may have conjured up images of a 60-year old person, with professional experience of more than 30 years. But things have really changed now. With the upcoming crop of startups and new-age businesses, we see a lot of young CEOs in organisations. They may not have much of an experience working in different roles, places or sectors, but they are great leaders and innovators.

If we look at some of the successful Indian startups and family businesses, we will find that they are headed by CEOs who belong to the age group of 30 to 45. They are relatively young leaders, who are efficiently handling global operations for their respective companies.

Typically, people working as C-suite members are very senior professionals with over 20 to 25 years of experience. They may be better than the CEOs when it comes to their designated functions. Also, the reason why a youngster is a CEO is because of the extraordinary skills and competency the young individual possesses that makes her/him ideal to be appointed at that level.

Abhijit Bhaduri

“The CEO’s role is the same regardless of the experience, gender, level or age or the qualifications of the person holding the chair. Like any role, the CEO’s role is one that the person has to grow in to do justice”

Young CEOs need to keep in mind certain points while dealing with people who are way senior to them.

HRKatha had a chat with some of the HR leaders in the industry who revealed exactly what those points are.

“I can very well relate to the situation because I have been in one myself in my last job. I was a person with close to 25 years of experience and I was reporting to a 29-year old. These situations can get very tricky at times and for me the most important thing is right communication,” says Praveer Priyadarshi, former chief people officer, Jindal Stainless.

Anish Philip

“When you are a very young CEO dealing with senior professionals, it is very important to explain the ‘why’ behind everything you decide”

Things that a young CEO should do

Be a good listener – At such a young age, dealing with senior people can be difficult. Therefore, the young CEOs should learn to empathise and understand that the people they are dealing with are the best at their respective jobs. At the same time, being such young CEOs means they are still in the learning phase. By patiently observing these seniors, they can learn a lot from them too.

Explain the rationale – There will be instances where the young CEOs may not like a suggestion or an idea from the other person. In such situations, they should not just discard the idea without giving any reason. An approach involving rationale and reasoning is very important. Explain the reason ‘why’ the suggestion or idea is beneficial. In the absence of such reasoning, people will start getting irritated and will think that the CEO is a very egoistic person.

“When you are a very young CEO dealing with senior professionals, it is very important to explain the ‘why’ behind everything you decide,” mentions Anish Philip, VP-people function, Mindtree.

Praveer Priyadarshi

“When you have a young CEO heading experienced professionals things can get very tricky at times and for me the most important thing is right communication”

Communicate appropriately – As a CEO, whichever form of communication you adopt with your team— from verbal to written—has to be appropriate. The CEOs should know what they are communicating and how.

Trust people – CEOs should trust their people and let them take things in their own hands. In short, they should give their team members a free hand. However, at the same time, they should be fully aware of the position of authority they occupy. They have to verify whether the other person is fit for the job or not.

“The CEO’s role is the same regardless of the experience, gender, level or age or the qualifications of the person holding the chair. Like any role, the CEO’s role is one that the person has to grow in to do justice. While each CEO may have their own style and approach to deliver the results, the stakeholders hold the leader up to the same high standards,” shares Abhijit Bhaduri, Digital transformation coach.

Project capabilities – At some point, people will need to understand that irrespective of experience, the CEO is THE CEO. Again, it is up to the CEOs to make people realise this and win their trust. They should conduct themselves in such a manner that they fully project their capabilities to the people and show them why they occupy the position of CEO.

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