Helicopter Managers

Helicopter Managers

We all know the helicopter parent. That person who hovers over their child. Making sure that everything is ok. Often removing any obstacles in their way. This parenting style is highlighted by a need to make sure that your child is ok - that there’s nothing going wrong - and, in many cases, removing any difficult obstacles that stand in their way. At the most extreme - helicopter parents will even go so far as to do many things for the child. Some people might even say they do too much.

But this isn’t about parenting. I am wondering this:

Is there such a thing as a helicopter manager? The answer is yes. You might even be one.

In every single leadership workshop I facilitate, when asked what behaviours leaders would like to change in their staff, they come back with one particular thing:

“I want my people to think for themselves. I want them to stop coming to me with problems and asking me for the solution.”

Someone brings this up. Every. Single. Time.

This leads to a discussion on what drives behaviour in people and the reality is that, at it’s most basic level, we do things because they are either easy, or because we get a reward.

So we dig a bit deeper and our conversation invariably goes like this…

Me: So - what do you do when they come to you with these problems

Participant: I give them the solution. I have to - by this time there is not time and it would take too long to work through it with them.

Ok - so let’s look at this in the context of people doing things because they are easy, or because they get a reward.

1)    This is so easy it’s crazy. If I’m your staff member, and I’ve got a problem, I can either a) spend a heap of time thinking about it, or b) ask you and you’ll tell me the answer.

Which one do I pick? The first option of course! This is a no brainer.

2)    Let’s look at the rewards -

a)    I didn’t have to do something hard (that is, think for myself)

b)    I can’t get in trouble if the answer is wrong (because it was your decision)

c)    My job is finished.


This happens all the time.

Managers solve people’s problems for them.

They take back work that they originally delegated.

They accept poor quality work and then fix it themselves.

And when we do this, we ‘make it all better’ for our staff. And then we wonder why they can’t think for themselves.
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