Your office coach: Young manager must respect experience while establishing authority

Q: I’m a little nervous about my new job. In this role, I will be managing several office directors who are somewhat older than I am. My boss created this position so that he could devote more time to higher-level activities. Previously, all the directors reported to him.

Since these are seasoned professionals, they may resent having a young newcomer as their manager. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m trying to take over, but at the same time, I need to establish my authority so they won’t take advantage of me. How can I get off to a good start?

A: First of all, your instincts are correct. With an experienced staff, you need to find a happy medium between micromanaging and giving them free rein. If you naturally tend to lean one way or the other, you must modify your style accordingly. Over time, you will discover who deserves autonomy and who may need more attention.

During the initial transition, your manager has primary responsibility for insuring a smooth handoff. To avoid the confusion often created by new positions, he must clearly define the specific duties and goals of your job. If he fails to do so, take the initiative to introduce this topic yourself.

To begin getting acquainted, hold a “transition meeting” with the staff and invite your manager to attend. He can describe your role, explain his reasons for adding a management layer, and acknowledge that this will require an adjustment. You can talk about your background and ask questions about your new environment.

Next, schedule individual meetings to learn more about the directors and their jobs. Explain that at first you may want more frequent communication because you are adjusting to a different organization. This clarification is important, since your need for information might be misinterpreted as a desire to meddle.

Finally, because their former boss is still around, don’t be surprised if some folks have difficulty cutting the cord. Under these circumstances, employees often continue taking questions and concerns to their previous manager. Should you find this occurring, simply ask him to gently redirect these wayward souls back to you.

Q: I recently moved from a technical position to a job in human resources. This role requires a lot more communication, but I am not a native English speaker. What is the best way to improve my speaking and writing abilities?

A: An English for Speakers of Other Languages program, or ESOL, is an extremely useful resource for people wishing to sharpen their English skills. An online search can help you locate either a local group or a remote learning curriculum. An assortment of other self-study materials can be found on Amazon.

For real-time feedback, you might also consider giving close colleagues permission to correct your grammar and spelling. But if this sounds uncomfortable or irritating, then it would not be a good idea.

English is difficult to learn, so I applaud your desire to master it. And to anyone with co-workers in a similar situation, please be patient. Unless you have tried communicating in an unfamiliar language, you have no idea how challenging it can be.

Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.” Send in questions and get free coaching tips at, or follow her on Twitter @officecoach.