From the June 2003 issue of Startups

On the surface, you may not have a lot in common. First of all, you probably are quite a bit younger than your adult employee or co-worker. Second, your adult colleague may seriously underestimate your ability to thrive in an adult business world. This may cause rifts as decisions are made and disagreements result. Managing the teenager-adult relationship is essential to growing a business as you bring on senior leadership to steer the ship while you complete educational endeavors. (For more on when it's time to bring on adult leadership, see my December column.)

Here are some suggestions for building long-lasting relationships with adult employees:

  • Be involved in the search process. When recruiting adult employees to get actively involved with your company, be hands-on and visible during the interviewing process. Ask tough questions. Get a sense of the candidate's personality, and take note of any warning signs that could retard the growth of a mutually rewarding relationship.
  • Know your employee on personal level. It's important to spend quality time with your older colleague and develop mutual respect for one another. To do this, you must embrace the opportunity to bond with your colleague on a personal level. Take advantage of long stretches of time together to discuss such items as their childhood, family, hobbies and other interests, political views and the like.
  • Engage in robust dialogue. While euphemistic language is generally a good strategy when communicating with normal peers in the business world, for a close employee it is best to be upfront and blunt. Bringing concerns, questions or disagreements to the surface sooner rather than later will help stave off future conflicts. If you think that your adult colleague's work effort did not cut the mustard on a specific project, be sure to speak up. By the same token, if you are super impressed with his or her work, be sure to offer a sincere compliment.

A significant challenge for teenagers and adults in any environment is finding common ground. Unlike most social settings, age cannot be the sole connector between you two. It's not easy, but you must work to find threads of commonalities to generate a respectful, productive relationship with your adult employee. Taking a lax approach to this important topic is risky and can lead to diminished working results, while developing the powerful relationship will bear fruit that extends well beyond a simple number on an income statement.


Fifteen-year-old Ben Casnocha is founder, CEO and chairman of Comcate Inc., a San Francisco firm focused on providing technology solutions for local governments. His work has been profiled in more than 50 magazines, newspapers, radio stations, TV outlets and Web sites nationwide. Got something to squawk about? Write to Casnocha at ben@comcate.com.