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I Know Helicopter Parents…But Helicopter Managers?

You may have heard of the term helicopter parents but have you heard of helicopter managers? Until recently, I have not and now that I have, I am wondering if there is something we can learn.

During a recent conversation with a colleague, the topic “helicopter parent” came up and as we were discussing its effectiveness, the lack of, the conversation shifted to how some managers may be using helicopters to drive results.

For those of us who are not familiar with the term “helicopter parent” let us have a quick look:

hel∙i∙cop∙ter par∙ent

-a parent who takes an overprotective or excessive interest in the life of their child or children.

Most parents, hopefully all, want the best for their children. They are on a mission to help their kids learn, grow, and be happy. But sometimes, some parents, want their kids to be happy so much that they forget to include learning and growing. Because they failed to remember, their kid misses out on valuable lessons to learn and new experiences to learn and grow from. If you ask me, this is the stuff that helps kids grow and become successful adults.

Imagine, you are a parent, you have a helicopter, and you know how to fly it. You have the ability to drop in on your child anytime you feel they need saving. Your intent may be to protect, keep your kid safe and happy but are you really helping them learn how to become happy and successful adults?

Maybe you have heard the following quote:

Feed a man a fish, feed him for the day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for life.

If parents want their children to eat for life, wouldn’t they benefit most by parking the chopper in the hanger and giving their kid a fishing pole?

Let’s have some fun and see what happens when we replace parents with managers.

hel∙i∙cop∙ter man∙ag∙er

-a manager who takes an overprotective or excessive interest in the results of their direct reports or other employees.

Imagine you are a manager and you have a helicopter and you know how to fly it. You have the ability to drop in, save your team from setbacks or failure and drive results. Would you fly it? Would you drop in, save your team from failure and drive results? I have and I may have helped my team eat for the day but what they may have really needed was to eat for life.

As managers we are sometimes seen as star players. We know how to play, score, and win games. But if we want our team to win championships, we might consider letting our team play, score points and win games.

We know life is busy, time is limited, and results are expected. Failure may not be an option and rightfully so. But what if we never let our team learn + grow from challenging experiences? How are they going to grow and be more successful?

How many times have we participated and sometimes led conversations about failure being a necessary part of the success equation? How many books, movies, speeches, and TED talks have we listened to that talk about the learning experience and how we learn from our mistakes? If any of this is true, I must ask, why do we practice flying helicopters when we should be planning fishing trips?

Here is another quote and I think you might like this one too:

There is no such thing as failure only feedback.

When I first heard the quote, it felt great. It was like someone removed their foot from my back as I was lying on stomach. The pressure was released, and I felt like my failures became successes. My outlook on managing, teaching, delegating, accountability, leadership, and life changed that very moment. I guess you can say I learned something important. Since then, failure never felt the same.

Yes, there is a cost to helping your team develop skills, knowledge, and experience. There is a price and sometimes it’s expensive. But how many times to do we need to rent a tuxedo before we finally buy one? Sometimes managers feel like if they are not on the field the team won’t win the game and maybe that’s true and maybe it’s just a feeling. Maybe that’s what a player thinks and maybe we are not players. Maybe we are managers and we may need to step off the field and let the players play.

Whether you are a parent, a manager, or both, we all want the people we are responsible for to learn, grow and be successful. As we sit here today and look back at all the great things we have learned, how much we have grown from all the experiences we have experienced, contributed to and helped create success, maybe it’s time we let others do what we did. Maybe it’s time we give them a chance to experience life and feel what it feels like to play, score, and win games.

Maybe Tom Peters was correct when he said, “Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.”


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