Managing down doesn?t have to be from a helicopter!

Set your leadership fears aside and lead from the ground!

You?ve all heard the term ?helicopter parent? which was first used in Dr. Haim Ginott’s 1969 book Parents & Teenagers. It refers to parents who would hover over their children like a helicopter.

Psychologist, Ann Dunnewold, calls it “over-parenting” and relates it to ?being involved in a child’s life in a way that is over-controlling, over-protecting, and over-perfecting, in a way that is in excess of responsible parenting”.

The same term is also used in management for similar reasons. Helicopter Managers generally fear failure and will overcompensate and become involved unnecessarily in tasks. They micro-manage to avoid unfavourable outcomes without considering the impact this has on their team.

Helicopter management is ego driven and has only short term benefits. It?s a little like yelling at someone who?s done something wrong, it feels good but only for the short term. Over the long term impacts on your team might include:

  • An unhealthy culture of avoidance and blame
  • Constantly reacting to situations that could have been prevented
  • High staff turnover and low tenure
  • Absenteeism (e.g. high sick leave) and/or presenteeism (e.g. low productivity)
  • Low engagement
  • Unmotivated and disempowered employees

In addition to these impact, a helicopter manager will struggle to succeed in their own role without working excessively long hours and over time could burnout or struggle in other areas of their life (e.g. family, relationships, health).

To get the best out of your team and to set yourself up for success you need to embrace a learning environment. Where your staff can walk alone, fall over every now and then and know that you?ll continue to support them without ?taking over? or ?taking away? responsibility. Transitioning from a helicopter manager to one that fosters a learning environment might be a little tough but is sustainable and extremely rewarding.

My second eldest, Riley, has really tested my parenting abilities and I?ve been tempted on many occasions to jump into the helicopter. What stops me though, is focusing on the bigger picture ? him developing his independence and giving him the necessary skills to survive in the world. And he?s getting there, slowly?He?s split his head open twice through daredevil clumsiness and appears to have no fear. Only a few days ago my husband caught him as he fell from a high kitchen cupboard trying to get to the lolly jar. He had taken a chair, placed his sisters booster seat on top of it and then a stool on top of that. When it inevitably toppled over, Riley was left hanging from the cupboard and calling for help ? which he received immediately. Instead of letting the fear, of what could have been, take over we had a chat about the experience and what he?d learnt from it. Whether it?s right or wrong, this was what Riley learnt, ?I won?t do that again?but?next time just put the lolly jar on top of the fridge ok Mum!?.

The moral of the story is this?do what it is that you need to deal with your own insecurities and fears, quickly and quietly, and let your team get on with it! If you need help I?d be happy to have a chat!


Shelley Flett is a passionate leader with a keen focus on creating dynamic team environments through adaptable leadership.?She is a leadership coach, trainer, facilitator, mentor and speaker who ignites vision and purpose in those she works with.

If you?d like to know more about how she can help you or your organization drop her an email


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