I have been very fortunate that Life has lent me four amazing children. They represent my greatest pride, and seeing them turn into happy, caring and well adapted teenagers and young adults brings me the greatest joy.
Someone once told me that at one point in their life, your children will fire you as their coach, and if you’re lucky, they will hire you as their managers.
One of my guiding parental principles was that my children were going to have many friends, but only one father. I therefore decided that I was not going to be their friend. I was going to be the best father possible, with all the good, the bad and the ugly that comes with it.
Many times that meant applying tough Love, being the bad cop, and giving them what they needed, not what they wanted. It meant that sometimes, I needed to allow them to fail, to make the “wrong” decision, and to live with the consequences of their actions and decisions. It also meant that in certain situations, I had to let them deal with difficult situations and figure it out, even if I could have intervened and “fixed it” for them. That was probably the toughest thing to do: stay out of it. When I didn’t, I always regretted robbing them of an opportunity to learn and to grow.
I often saw parents, with the best intentions in the world, who didn’t allow their kids to face difficult situations on their own. In more extreme cases, there were those HPs – “Helicopter Parents” – who constantly hovered over their kids, depriving them of so many opportunities to develop their character because they wanted to protect them against getting hurt.
I will let my children be the judge of my parenting skills, and the people who work for me be the judge of my managerial abilities. However, I believe that being a people manager made me a better father, and being a father made me a better manager.
Just like HPs in the personal space, I see many Helicopter Managers in the workplace. These are the managers who regularly work 50% to 100% more hours than their employees. No job is too small for them to micromanage. They are the ones who take on extra work in the evening and on weekends. They think that they are the only ones who can handle difficult clients or challenges. “I’ll take that call” and “I need to be at that meeting” are their default positions in crisis moments.
I feel the same way about Helicopter Managers as I feel about Helicopter Parents: they are stunting their peoples’ opportunities to grow by not letting them own their challenges or discover new ways of working. They think they’re coming from a “good place” or doing “the right thing.” The truth is that they’re disempowering their employees by sending them not-so-subtle signals that they’re not good enough to handle it on their own.
To those managers (and parents) I say: Please, land the Chopper. Let go of the need to control others. Get out of their way so they can take off. You’ll discover that you can fly a lot further as well.
“Failing organizations are usually over-managed and under-led.”
- Warren Bennis