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Young Managers & Leaders is a Bad Idea

The hierarchy in the workplace is misunderstood. We think in titles instead of roles or what that role aims to achieve. 

It's a mess! Senior roles are not so much about the level of responsibility or what the role does. Just look at any VP for example. There is not much they do that others cannot learn within six months. 

The purpose of hierarchy is to transition players out of playing, into a coaching position. 

Just like in sports, when you are young, full of energy, the drive to win, and ready to tackle the world you play and compete. Then when you are done with your contribution and achieve what you wanted or could, you go and take on the role of a coach ensuring that the new generation's talent is managed and brought out in the form of performance using your experience and practical wisdom. You do that via training, teaching them about discipline and responsibilities, setting them goals, guiding them and sometimes giving them a good dressing down when it is needed.

Organisational structures go against this notion by creating unreasonably complex structures, by not making it clear that promotion means being transitioned into a coaching role, and by moving young people into these roles when they are still in the competing and playing stage of their careers. A massive mistake if you ask me and that is why we have so many problems in organisations. 

Those young guys don't want to and cannot be coaches yet! They want to achieve, prove themselves, get their hands dirty and work crazy hours if it's needed. They do not want to deal with other people and we hear that each time we speak to young managers and leaders. They don't complain about the workload, they complain about their people. Why? Because they are not ready for that role. 

So what do we do to tackle this challenge? We put them through managerial and leadership training completely ignoring the natural evolution of our roles at work, at home and in society in general dictated by age and our contribution. Yes, this is a natural order and it is beautiful. Our parents and grandparents coached us so we could be where we are today and when this coaching is absent or lenient, well, you know the outcome of that. 

But then you would say, how about those young CEOs of startups etc? I will then bring your attention to the fact that they have the title but their actions are still the actions of players. They work like mad they give almost zero thought to their people naturally. We need to force them. 

There are two stages in everyone's career, the player stage and the coach stage and you cannot mix these. As a young professional, you cannot coach because you don't have the experience and the achievement for it. First, go and get your hands dirty then coach. As an older professional, you cannot always be a player because eventually age catches up and you fall behind the young ones so stop competing, you will lose. But you can win if you transition into a coach role even if it doesn't come with the managerial title. My gran was the coach of 100s of workers in the textile factory where she worked for 42 years. She never even made it to be a supervisor but I know that her colleagues were always at our house and she was like the mother of all. This made her happy and perhaps feel important. We all need that. 

PS: As for the picture below, in 2020 I was lucky enough to look after the National Irish Rugby team for two months in Ireland. We were locked up in a hotel in the countryside during the Six Nations games only the team and 10 hotel staff to look after them. This is where I learned this lesson as I talked to the sports psychologists, the coaches and performance analysts every day. We would sit in the communal area with the boys and talk shit during the lockdown because we had nothing else to do. I have to say, it was a very special experience and I am glad I got to do it. 

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