How to succeed with ‘Helicopter Managers’

Last week we talked about the notion of a ‘helicopter manager’.  This is a manager who likes to micromanage everything, make all decisions and give employees little responsibility for the work they are completing.   Let’s face it, working under a ‘helicopter manager’ isn’t fun! It is challenging, on many levels, especially if an employee wants to learn, excel, demonstrate their skills and feel they are making a contribution to the organization.

Like kids of helicopter parents, employees in this situation rarely have the opportunity to think for themselves, provide their perspective and be part of a collaborative process which is so important for engagement, something most organizations want in the current competitive market.   Over time it becomes easy for employees to lose interest in what they are doing and disconnect as they feel no sense of responsibility and no accountability for the work they are expected to complete.  Not exactly the recipe for success for any party or organization involved.

We know as an employee in such a situation, life can be challenging.  The job you once loved may no longer hold the appeal and you find it more and more difficult to get up and go to work every day.

Here are some tips to help you succeed in spite of your ‘helicopter manager’:

  • Listen, listen, listen.  Although this may be challenging you need to give your manager your full attention and focus on what they are saying.  Once they have provided you with the detail, gently move into the conversation and paraphrase back what you have heard.  This will ensure you both have the same understanding of expectations.  You may even want to write a quick email summarizing the expectations and ask for agreement before moving forward.  In this way, you will know exactly what is expected and able to provide the deliverable that is requested with minimal involvement on the part of your manager.
  • Be curious.  Ask open, curious questions to better understand their perspective and gain clarity around what they want, why they want it, how they want it completed and what your role is in the deliverables.  The more clarity you have, the better you can complete the work in a way that works for them.  Being curious will help you better understand their thought process so you can provide the deliverables on time without need for direction.
  • Goal setting.  Ensure a goal is set for the work you are doing and you and your manager both agree as to what this goal is.  Be curious so you can gain clarity around the goal and both understand it.  Chances are you have a different perspective or approach as to how to complete this goal and once you have listened to the perspective of your manager, you can offer yours, framing it around the goal so the manager can clearly see how you get from A to B.  Asking questions such as ‘when we look at achieving this goal, how will my approach not ensure success?  What is different about your process that ensures a greater success?  What would it be like for you if I tried my process to achieve this goal if I report into you as I go?
  • Accountability.  Be accountable for your work.  Offer to take on new projects, new work for which you outline your accountability, perhaps with a check in process that ensures the manager feels ‘in the loop’ as you progress.
  • Detail.  You may not be a detail person and perhaps your manager is.  Be curious around this.  Find out what they need from you, paraphrase for clarity and deliver.
  • Accept responsibility.  Errors happen.  We all make them.  Even if they try to blame and shame you, be curious, accept responsibility and discuss what you have learned from the experience.
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