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Are You a Helicopter Manager?

helicopterThere’s been a lot of talk in the media lately about the dangers of over-protective parenting. In fact, it’s gotten so bad that psychologists have coined a new phrase — “helicopter parents” — for the moms and dads who get over-involved in their kids’ lives.

These are the parents who yell at the soccer coach when Emma doesn’t get enough playing time during the game. These are the parents who intervene at school when Dylan receives a B instead of an A, even though he turned the assignment in late and poorly done. And these are the parents who constantly hover over their kids and swoop down to rescue them any time it looks like they might stub their toe or suffer some minor distress.

Helicopter parents mean well. But they end up doing real damage to their children by being way overprotective and micro-managing every aspect of their lives. Their kids never learn how to solve problems or deal with the harsher realities of life. So when they go off to college or enter the workforce, they struggle to deal with everyday challenges in the adult world (especially when those parents hover in those worlds as well)!

Unfortunately, the business world has its share of helicopter managers as well.

These are the managers who make most or all of the decisions for their employees.
They tell people what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. They withhold information for fear of upsetting people, and tend to avoid conflict rather than addressing the underlying issue. Worst of all, they solve problems for their employees rather than letting people figure it out for themselves.

Like their parental counterparts, helicopter managers mean well. But the result is the same. By micromanaging every aspect of people’s jobs, they stunt the growth and development of their employees. And in doing so, drastically limit what the organization as a whole can achieve.

Helicopter managers aren’t bad people; they’re just stuck in the past. They’re using management concepts and techniques that no longer jibe with current market realities. In a world where everything you know about your customers and your industry can change in a flash, you can’t afford to get stuck in the present, much less the past.

In the old days managers got results by hovering and micromanaging. Today’s market conditions require a very different approach. For starters, employees will no longer put up with being told what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. If you don’t offer them some input into how they do their jobs, they will go elsewhere.

More important, to succeed in constantly changing markets you must have a flexible, adaptable organization that can change direction on a dime. And you get that by having empowered, enabled employees who can perform at high levels and achieve goals and objectives without someone constantly hovering over them.

As a manager, your job isn’t to make decisions for employees. It’s to teach them how to make decisions that are good for the customer and the organization. Your job isn’t to solve problems for employees. It’s to coach them to creatively solve problems on their own. Your job isn’t to micromanage every aspect of your employees’ jobs. It’s to give them the information and resources they need and then get out of the way and let them do their jobs!

And don’t confuse this approach with withholding answers if your employees ask you for them. There is nothing worse than a manager who thinks he/she is teaching an employee how to think by asking questions versus telling them what you know. If you know the answer or have strongly held opinions about how something needs to get done, give the answer and expose your thinking process to get it. Your employees learn more that way and won’t talk bad about you in the break room or on twitter!

If your company is struggling to respond to changing customer expectations and market realities, land your helicopter, turn in your pilot’s license and start learning a new and more flexible way of leading your organization. Helicoptering works great during police chases and traffic reports. Not so much in parenting. And in today’s markets, it won’t get the results you need for your business either.

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