Helicopter Management

Don’t Be That Type of Manager

Many of you have heard the term “helicopter parenting.” You may be one or be the child of one of these types of individuals. I would argue that the concept of over-inserting yourself in someone’s business is not unique to parents but is also common in the workplace. I would argue the concept of helicopter management differs slightly from micro-management. Specifically, that helicopter management is more about a nurturing approach while micro-management is more associated with span of control. In my opinion both are detrimental to your team and your organization.

Stop Because it is Annoying

Like an overbearing parent, a helicopter manager will often leave their subordinate annoyed and frustrated. After all, as a manager, the organization did hire this person for their technical and administrative competency.

In essence, when you helicopter on your staff, you’re undermining this premise and creating an adversarial relationship. As a manager, being “all up in someone’s business” does the exact opposite of what you want –  which is creating a self-empowered and productive employee. In the end, annoying behavior breeds annoying behavior. So be mindful when the rotor blades come out and you do a low flying pass on one of your staff.

Stop Because it Destroys Trust

When someone constantly interjects themselves into a discussion or work activity, it is sending the message that “I don’t trust what you are doing is correct.” As managers, it is imperative that we build trust among our staff. Sometimes a manger may forget that acting like a consultant on the matter allows an employee to make their own decisions and learn.

There are situations where a manager may need to make decisions based upon an employee’s confidence or track record.  However, as a manager, be judicious and allow an employee to learn from their decisions. A former manager once said to me “a mistake is proof someone actually tried to do something.”

Don’t Worry; There is Hope

I would be lying to you if I haven’t fallen to a staff fly-by now and again. That said – for those of you who may be doing this on a regular basis – I think there is few things that can help you break the cycle. In particular, start by giving your employee the benefit of the doubt. I think taking a “You decide, call me if you need assistance” approach will allow an opportunity for a staff member to prove themselves. If they struggle with efficiency using this approach you can default to more control.

Maybe if an employee is struggling with a lack of oversight, you can get progressively more structured. Using a “We’ll discuss and we’ll decide” approach can help the employee who lacks confidence and allows you to consult on all decisions. Finally, if an employee can’t prove themselves with these approaches you can move towards a “We’ll discuss and I’ll decide” approach. This progressive approach allows an employee to gain confidence and decision-making skills.

In the end, as a manager it is your job to see what your employees can do. So get out of the cockpit and develop a model that allows an employee to fly on their own.

Garrett Dunwoody is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Martin Nera

Good read. I think it’s important for employees and managers alike to read articles on managing practices like this – it it allows the employee to more easily identify what they actually prefer from their managers, and it helps bring awareness to managers of management styles like this.