Stop Rescuing Me: Don’t Treat Employees Like You’re a Helicopter Parent

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Feb 12, 2015

We often hear about the, “helicopter parents.” You know, the style of parenting in which an overprotective mom or dad discourages a child’s independence by being too involved in the child’s life.

They often make decisions and solve problems for the child, intervening at the first sign of challenge or discomfort for the child. They think they are being helpful, but are they really?

California State University Fresno professors/authors Jill C. Bradley-Geist and Julie B. Olson-Buchanan conducted a study that showed college students of “helicopter parents” found it difficult believing in their own ability to accomplish goals, were more dependent on others, had poor coping skills and lacked responsibility and conscientiousness throughout their college experience.

You can’t keep rescuing kids … or employees

That doesn’t sound like the qualities I would want my children to possess!

What happens when they leave college and join the workforce? YIKES!

Last time I checked, self-confidence, ability to manage stress, being responsible and conscientious were all really important qualities for people I’d want to hire.

I’m not a trained physiologist, but could it be that this need to “rescue” comes from their own deep-seeded fears?

Maybe it’s fear of failure, fear of what others will think, fear of not being “successful,” fear of my child no longer needing me … the list could go on and on.

Helicopter parenting seems to be what’s in the best interest of “me” vs. the child.

Workplace micromanagers do it, too

I’ve seen this all too often play out in the workplace as well — the manager that “won’t let their people fail.” Does the term “micromanager” ring a bell?

Again, I suspect that the manager’s fear is at play here rather than what’s best for the team or employee.

But here’s the thing about how we learn: When faced with challenges or decisions where the we are unsure about what to do, that is the prime learning situation!

In those situations, when operating on auto-pilot won’t do the trick, that’s when our thinking and feeling muscles, (aka, our learning muscles), get activated.

When the answer isn’t crystal clear, there is discomfort and being uncomfortable is a key component in how we learn.

How a manager helps people learn to face challenges

When the micromanager intervenes, employees are deprived of the learning opportunity. Just like the helicopter parent with their child.

Instead, the manager should:

  • Take a coaching approach – Ask more questions and offer less direction about what to do and/or how to do it.
  • Get comfortable with being uncomfortable – Don’t swoop in; check in. Offer encouragement and when they ask you for direction, respond with another question for them (e.g., What do you think is a good next step? How do you think others would react to that? Have you thought about how that would impact the distribution center? etc.)
  • Keep focused on the real prize – This is NOT about you, it’s about your employee’s development.

Here’s another big bonus:

When you let go and let the person being developed (worker or child) figure things out for themselves, it frees up your time to do other things!

  • Focus on more strategic work;
  • Address your own professional development opportunities. Maybe YOU can learn something new too and be better positioned to get that promotion!
  • Dare I say? Take a vacation!

Let them test the waters

Have you ever seen someone learn to swim without being in the water?

I’m not saying to throw someone in the deep end with no support. Be within ear shot and keep an eye on them from the pool-side lounge chair so you can shift into coach-mode when needed.

Bottom line: Give others the opportunity to test the waters, splash around and learn something own their own. You’ll develop a reputation of being a great developer of people and have a line of loyal employees who would jump at the chance to work with you/learn with you again and again.

This was originally published on PeopleResult’s Current blog.

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