How A Helicopter Boss Harms Performance And Alienates People

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They say people leave bad managers, not employers. What makes a manager intolerable to employees? What does it mean to be a “Helicopter Boss” and how does one impact performance?

1 – Leading Thought

Micromanagement intends to control a team but achieves the exact opposite. (Corinna Hagen) Click To Tweet

2 – Your Choice: Enable Performance

When the pandemic shifted nearly all work into a virtual, remote setting, one question leaders have asked was, “How do I know they’re working?” The question assumes that you only know people are working if you see them. It’s a dangerous assumption because it prompts you to counterproductive behavior and assessments of the wrong indicators for performance.

What would you prefer: being able to watch people do the work or being able to assess the results of their work? It’s pretty clear to most leaders that they want their team to meet their targets.

Interestingly, being a micromanager or “Helicopter Boss” helps you achieve the opposite of the intended high performance. Here is why:

Controlling behavior creates mistrust. Your need for frequent check-ins and controlling every detail of your employee’s work communicates that you do not trust them. Your distrust, in turn, creates mistrust in your employees. Mistrust hinders collaborative work and transparent communication.

Interruptions harm productivity. How can a Helicopter Boss expect a team to get anything done if she/he frequently interrupts their work? It takes on average 20 minutes to get your focus back after an interruption. If you need your team to meet deadlines, give them the time to accomplish their work.

Micromanagement hinders innovation. If you expect others to perform as your carbon copy, you are disabling creative thinking and effective problem-solving. Furthermore, you don’t leverage the diversity in personality traits, strengths, and experience your employees bring to work.

Tight control doesn’t solve productivity issues. Micromanaging does not help you to create high-performing teams. Instead, it saps your productivity and prevents you from developing your talent. So, change your check-ins. For example, stop inquiring about status updates and begin to ask questions that help identify obstacles. Then commit to helping your team remove those obstacles.

3 – Way to Grow!

If your team has complained to you about this, consider what is creating this urge in you to check in frequently. For example, are you afraid your team doesn’t understand the importance of an assignment? Has poor delivery crushed your expectations?

Understanding the underlying reasons for your behavior will inform your next step. For instance, if your expectations haven’t been met before, adjust your communication. Communicate expectations for what you will achieve as a team, how you expect to work together, and how and when updates are expected. Then let your team repeat back to you what they understood to ensure you are on the same page.

Lastly, learn to release the control button. Let your team get to work. Your constant check-ins are merely interruptions. Moreover, they don’t produce high-performance teams. On the contrary, they produce people who “put in a lot of hours.” At best, they become emergency responders or reporters who learn to tell you what you want to hear.

Take a look at these other resources on the topic:

  • Being a Leader, Not a Micromanager (video) – 2 min.
  • “High Performance Virtual Work” – How Leaders Create Effective Virtual Workplaces (eBook) – 40 pages

Here’s making leading choices!


Leading Choices covers three parts in each edition: 
1    A key insight
2    A Choice
3    An Action or Resources

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