As cray-town as it may seem, in the not-too-distant future, you could find yourself being the boss. In fact, according to a recent CareerBuilder survey, 38 percent of U.S. workers already report to someone younger than themselves, up from 34 percent in 2012. This trend is fast picking up in South Africa.
But just because you’re more likely to become the HBIC of your peers or elders, that doesn’t mean you can shortcut the skills needed to oversee a team. And when being at the top is totally new, you might be afraid to ask for help, says Linda A. Hill, PhD, a Harvard Business School professor and the author of Becoming a Manager. You could also develop impostor syndrome, meaning you may not feel like you deserve the clout.
To prep for that climb up the career ladder—or to kick even more butt if you’ve already hopped up a few rungs—heed this advice for being a smart honcho.
You know those gossip sessions you and your coworkers have about the swole UPS guy? Yeah, those days are over. When you’re the boss, your relationships with colleagues need to shift just a bit. “Create parameters by trying not to hang out with your staff outside work,” says Ali Kriegsman, co-founder and COO of retail start-up Bulletin (she became a boss for the first time at age 24). Sure, you might socialize at a company happy hour or a mutual friend’s birthday party, but decide early on that you won’t cross lines. So no getting wasted in front of your team or talking shit. These self- imposed guidelines will set the precedent that you’re a supervisor, not a beer-pong bud.
Model the Behavior You Want to See
“Every day, you set examples,” says Amanda Bradford, who started the dating app The League when she turned 29. Conduct yourself in ways you want your employees to. Example: If you call in sick after a night of too many margs (that you totally Insta Story-ed), your colleagues are going to feel like they have permission to do that too. Or if you scroll through e-mails and zone out during meetings, others may also feel okay about whipping out their phones. Be aware of your actions and that peeps might take their cues from you.
“Build a team of stakeholders. No matter the title or task, make every employee feel proud and purposeful every single day.” —Stephanie Ruhle, an anchor of MSNBC Live and a correspondent at NBC News
Get Comfy With Awkward Convos
You know how sweaty your hands get when a supervisor says you need to have a chat? Well, turns out, bosses get super nervous about these talks too! Now that you’re the person who has to lay down the law or, worse, fire someone, practice having these challenging exchanges before you do one IRL. Ask your HR department for pointers on what to say (and what not to say) before the meeting, advises Georgene Huang, CEO and co-founder of the career development site Fairygodboss.
Another tip: Have these talks in private, says Kriegsman. Be honest, direct, and clear about your expectations. Try saying this out loud: “You’ve been late every day this week, and we need you to be a productive member of this group. If I can’t rely on you, we may need to start thinking about your future here.”
“Ask questions. You don’t know everything and nobody expects you to! When people are being managed, they count on you to be honest. Teams will climb mountains for someone they trust.” —Crystal Spates, production manager at Tesla
Don’t Act Like a Know It All
It rocks that you’re killing it as a youngin’, but not everyone you manage—particularly those older than you—will see it that way. To keep potential backlash in check, make staffers feel valued by asking them for advice. When you acknowledge their experience and give them due credit, it fosters partnership instead of resentment. Also, limit those super age-specific references or at least give them context for your quips. “A millennial might inadvertently alienate someone older by bringing up something not everyone understands,” says Huang. So when you want to gush over your fave beauty blogger’s contouring skills on Snap, save it for your friend group’s text thread.
“Embrace your cautious side. I’ve always been a rule follower with a low tolerance for risk, and for a while, I saw this as a negative trait I needed to overcome. Now I realize it’s a strength.” —Merrill Stubbs, cofounder and president of Food52.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.