Helicopter Managers


credit: blogging innovation

We hear a great deal about the phenomenon of helicopter parents.  In fact we are doing a Parent Challenge right now  that discusses this concept from the perspective of parents.

Now we want to discuss the same notion, this time looking at managers and how they can fall into the same traps parents do and begin to do too much for the employees who report to them.

So what is a ‘helicopter manager’?  We see it as someone who micromanages every detail, making all decisions and allowing the employee little space to solve his own problems, because the manager will solve them for him, maybe faster, easier and differently than the employee would.  These managers like to protect employees, keeping news from them that might encourage transparency and then again may not be good news, so choose to protect instead of sharing.  They also like to avoid conflict with others, seeking to keep the peace at all costs.  For employees, this may seem like a cake walk, an ideal manager to report to.  In reality, this is typically not the case.

When you look at the characteristics described above of a helicopter manager, what messages do you think they are giving to employees?

Here are some that come to mind:

  • you are not smart enough to make this decision so I will make it for you
  • you once made an error so you are not capable of completing this task accurately so I will make sure your work is accurate
  • you won’t be able to figure out the details required for this project so I will tell you how it needs to be completed
  • you are not able to deal with the bad news I have heard so I won’t tell you

Etc etc.  We think helicopter managers constantly message ‘ you are not good enough’ and ‘I am better’.

In an era when organizations are continually changing if they are to thrive, constantly trying to be innovative, more efficient and do more with less, they want employees who are engaged, able to think for themselves and have the courage to make mistakes from which they can learn and improve.  Organizations need employees who are accountable, who are prepared to commit and work to achieve what is asked of them.  Employees want organizations that believe in them, who recognize their talents and support them in a way that allows them to learn, develop new skills, be accountable for the job they know they can achieve and acknowledge successes. Organizations need to ensure their employees are supported in continually learning, making a contribution that supports the organization in moving in the direction it has identified.  Organizations and employees both want to partner in a way that recognizes the value of diversity and differing perspectives all of which contribute to the rich tapestry that creates success in our current economy.

We know some people like detail and need detail to thrive.  We also know other people don’t want detail (unless it is absolutely necessary) as it bogs them down in a way that causes them to quickly lose interest in what is expected of them.   We think everyone needs to be held accountable for what is expected of them and what they agree to if an organization is to succeed.

 6 strategies that will support you as the manager in today’s workplace:

  1.  Listen to what an employee has to say.  Ensure when you commit to listen, you are able to give  your full attention.   Focus on what the speaker is saying.  This means dimming down the gremlins in your head, stopping any activity that could be distracting or message you are not listening.
  2. Be open to different perspectives.  We know as a manager, you are pressed for time.  You have so much to accomplish and if everyone would just do what you ask them to do, your life would be easier.  Not true.  Instead, be open to listening to the perspectives of others, recognizing there are many ways achieve the same results and maybe, just maybe, their way could be as good as you believe yours is.  Even if you don’t believe their ideas are as good as yours, be open to listening to and discussing these perspectives.  You may even learn something new!
  3. Be curious.  Ask those open questions that start with what, how, when, where, who and why.  Seeking to better understand without judging, you may receive wonderful nuggets of ideas that can be nurtured and developed.  At the very least, you will better understand the employees who report to you and may be offered new solutions to problems you have not yet considered.  Remember, even a genius cannot solve a problem as effectively as a team of people with average intelligence.
  4. Create a safe space for employees.  Being open and non judging with employees allows them to feel safe as they discuss ideas and new perspectives that may lead to innovation.  Providing opportunities to brain storm and discuss, even in a heated way, creates energy that can bring new life to old ideas.  Ensuring people don’t feel judged, that all ideas have possibility, allows everyone to free wheel in their heads and sometimes that off the wall idea proposed by one will lead to that very useable idea you have been looking for.
  5. Trust.  You most likely played a role in hiring and or training these employees so you need to trust in their abilities.  Being curious when starting a new task or project, you can ask those open questions that are needed for you to feel satisfied they can do the work.  Continue to be curious until you are comfortable with their approach.  Agree on follow-up dates as they progress AND then trust them to deliver.
  6. Embrace errors.  Errors can provide the very best learning opportunities.  Once an error is identified, be curious and explore all the factors that could have contributed to the error and then through curiosity explore possibilities for moving forward.  Such discussions can provide many new insights and support learning.  These opportunities are so much more valuable than the old school idea of blaming others for errors and shaming them into agreeing they will never make that error again – how does this contribute to learning and the development of best practices?

Want more? Discover the secrets of great leadership

Share with us your Helicopter Manager experiences, what is it like for you?

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