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What Do Employees Need from A Leader at Different Career Stages?

There are certain things that all employees need from their leaders. Some of the more noteworthy ones are respect, trust, transparency and accountability. You can never go wrong with these, no matter what type of team you lead.

But it is also true that most people have different needs depending on their career stage. As a leader, you are probably not equally skilled in all the areas we will discuss below. Or you might like some more than others.

I, for example, find managing junior employees who are just starting out their careers exhausting (though nothing can beat the enthusiasm of someone who still believes they could conquer the world). But I have colleagues who find shaping young professionals invigorating.

Whatever your inclinations are, your professional path will most likely face you with team members with different levels of experience and seniority. So let’s try to see what awaits you.

Supporting your junior team members

Over the last few years, I have had the chance to manage, directly or indirectly, many employees who were just commencing their careers. They had different educational and cultural backgrounds, personalities and aspirations. They had diverse approaches toward the work, the team and the company. But there was one thing in common among all of them – they all needed a manager.

And I mean that in a very narrow sense of the word – someone who helps them manage their time, their tasks and their behavior.

As a mother, I find an analogy with young children helpful. Junior employees discover the world of work in a similar manner to which kids master life. They, too, need to learn the rules in your team as well as the shared language.

They should receive ample guidelines and explanations (and yes, just like with children, you need to keep repeating the same thing over and over). They also require that their work is monitored until they master their tasks and fully understand the expectations.

Frequent and extensive feedback is also crucial as well as setting boundaries and teaching them the appropriate conduct within the organization.  It helps to remember that many of them need not only to be trained to do their job but to be taught what it means to work. So as a manager, you need to set the standards of what good looks like and hold them to that standard.

Because we have to be careful not to take the analogy too far. Your junior employees are not children and should not be treated as such. They are adults who should be shown the appropriate respect and, at the same time, be held fully accountable for their behaviors and decisions.

As employees mature and grow, their expectations of their manager and must-haves for success change.

Close monitoring of their activities and extensive and detailed explanations may be perceived as micromanagement and underestimating.

The role of the manager for them shifts its scope. From someone who helps them manage their tasks to someone who helps them manage their career. At this stage, a leader should move away from the role of a supervisor and boss to a coach and partner.

The greatest challenge when managing employees who have mastered their role is to retain them and dodge boredom.

You need to create an environment that enables them to try out new things, search for meaning and expand their skills and knowledge. And sometimes even fail so they can continue discovering themselves and your organization.

At this level, it is more important than ever for you to act as your employees’ mirror: showing them their strengths and opportunities and the various directions their professional path can take. I can say that some of the most rewarding moments in my career have been in helping a team member encounter a new skill or find a new passion.

You would expect that the more senior your employees, the easier it is to manage them. And that is, to a great extent, true. Because you don’t really need to manage them.

At the same time, though, the more senior and mature they are, the easier it would be for you to forget that they also have needs. And the easier it will be for them to spot your inadequacies.

So what do your senior employees want from their leader?

They already know what they are doing, and they most likely have decided what they want to be when they grow up and how to get there. As their leader, they will expect you to set the direction and destination and let them find the best way to reach it.

If you have the right people for the job, and you have painted a clear picture of the desired future, there is only one more thing you will need to do for them. And that has to do with removing obstacles and opening doors for them.

As a leader, you would have more influence and more resources, and your senior-level employees will expect that you expend those to help them fight the good fight and get closer to the target destination. So don’t be afraid or stingy in spending your organizational capital. Be there for your senior team members, and they will lead the team to the success you envisioned.

Every good manager (just like every good parent) always has a pinch of doubt whether they satisfy their team’s needs. I hope this text will help you alleviate this doubt for at least a few days.

And if you want to learn more specifically about managing managers, here is a good post that you might find helpful.

Talk to you soon.

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