Monday, February 21, 2011

Helicopter Parents and Helicopter Bosses

As the 78.3 million Baby Boomers born between 1946 - 1964 move toward their later years, i.e. the Silver Tsunami, many of them have been called “helicopter parents.” This term was originally coined by Foster W. Cline and Jim Fay in their 1990 book, Parenting with Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility. Sometimes also called “over-parenting” or “Black Hawk parents”, the term reflects how parents hoover closely overhead and try to solve all of their children’s problems. Institutions of higher education have seen this situation occur for quite some time, and now HR professionals regularly share with me how parents of young employees are actively involved in their children’s work place challenges.

From my vantage point, I have watched and met helicopter parents. I also have meet just as many helicopter bosses. As parents drop off their children for college and choose to stay all through new student orientation, I am seeing more and more executives who delegate a project and then just stay around to see if problems come up. Most of the time, this is a not a good situation.

First, we need to realize that while their intentions may be good, helicopter parents and helicopter bosses do not create a long term healthy work place or life journey. Risk management is an important skill set that must be learned. Constant supervision and oversight does not yield the ability to make smart choices.

Furthermore, helicopter parents and helicopter bosses are not teaching healthy problem solving and workplace etiquette. As Ron Alsop in his superb book, The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the millennial generation is shaking up the workplace, Jossey-Bass, 2008, notes, it is important to “help Millennials [the 92 million children born between 1980 -2001] become more comfortable with ambiguity by teaching them how to break down problems into manageable units and how to determine which data is most relevant to the solution.” Most of the problems with younger employees reflects employers who have high expectations but themselves display poor leadership skills, e.g. poor communication, delegation, or team building skills.

If we are going to be successful at work and if we are going to retain brilliant young people, then the first change that needs to take place is a reduction in helicopter parenting and helicopter management. In every office across the country, we need to build a clear context for what is and what is not the core values and the culture of the work place. Next, we need to communicate and reinforce these norms on a regular basis. Then, recognizing that we live and work in an extreme technology based, multitasking work place where attention deficit disorder is at times the new normal, we need to deal with the people and problems that cause misalignments between expectations and reality. Finally, we need to retrain people about how to delegate and how to coach.

In a work world where there continues to be wavering levels of optimism and a continued level of economic uncertainty, we need leaders who will lead and manage well. We do not need helicopter parents or helicopter employers whose supposedly loving actions actually result in both short and long term problems. This week practice communicating clear expectations, delegating clear outcomes and providing positive feedback which builds clarity and confidence. Do not get caught hovering over your staff.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates # 319 - 643 - 2257

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