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Can the Young Star Ever Earn Less Than the Employees They Manage?

Capitalist Note - Got an email about this from a young gunner over the weekend, and sent her this post.  Felt like I should share again.  Cliff notes - you play to win the game, not win today.


In a word, yes.  It's rare, but it happens.

Here’s my take - most star managers on the upswing of their careers have usually faced the prospect of either managing someone who has either:

a) earned more than they have, or

b) earned close to what they have. 

It happens more often with rising stars who are relatively young in an organization, because they tend to aggregate additional responsibilities beyond their years.  You’re aggressive with the star within the definition of “aggressive” within your company, then the department of the star has to grow, you move people around internally to work for them and BAM!  You also experience the reality that in order to hire people with the skills to work for the young star in the growing department, those new hires need to come in at or around the salary you have the star at…

Is that a problem?  Many would say yes.  To anyone (this message is for you, young star) who finds themselves in that situation, I would say "have patience, young grasshopper".  If you are that star who finds themselves managing people who earn more or close to what you earn, you're right, there should be more of a divide.  However, note this - you got to where you are because you are viewed as a high, high potential asset to your company.  There's probably only one way you can mess that up if you continue to perform - by not handling the situation with class.

If you make it about the money, some people will chalk that up to maturity, and you might see theMo money upward arc of your career slow down a bit.  If you find a classy way to bring it to someone's attention without demanding any immediate action, I can guarantee you one thing: You're going to make a LOT more money than the people you're currently managing over the course of your career.
To the stars of the world who find themselves in this situation, I say: "Be the ball, Danny".  Don't let pride or some shortsighted advice from your Uncle Tommy drive your reaction to this situation.  You've managed to be different than everyone else to this point.  Keep being different. 

Play to win the game, not this possession.


Matt Landrum

I've seen it happen "not infrequently". When it happened to me, my boss gave me a nice discussion which looked something like your post. I think my temperament was conducive to this situation, but the boss's talk set me up nicely. He was also probably trying to feel out my reaction too, but that was smart also.


I'm dealing with this right now in a government setting where there is less flexibility to make rapid moves up the chain than in a private business. The upside of being in government has been that I was thrown into the deep end right away and forced to learn and grow quickly. That experience has given me a lot of knowledge and confidence than I might not have been able to achieve this quickly. As I approach year 6 with this government agency, I am viewing my salary prospects begin to plateau and am beginning to look at my options in the private sector. Having dealt with being a team leader while managing people that make substantially more than me was annoying -- especially when those people were semi-clueless -- but that experience will serve me well going forward and, I believe, gained me some more fans among my bosses because I didn't complain to them and got results. My parents always told me to just keep my head down and work hard. That's pretty sound advice in my experience.


I really do agree. Patience is the keyword, and most young stars often also think that they need bigger and tougher assignments right away, but the need to relax.

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