In my many years of consulting with organizations, one of the prevalent complaints of staff is the helicopter management of senior leaders. First, staff are responsible for something and work hard to figure it out. Then, a senior leader "helicopters" in to adjust or redo the plan.
I often ask staff how this management style makes them feel when they describe this to me. Their answer is almost always the same: They think that they are not trusted, their work devalued, and the energy they put into the work they had completed. It is one of the most disrespectful things a leader can do to their staff, who feel marginalized and unappreciated. Of course, this does not mean the leader meant to send those messages, but their actions do just that. Every time leaders do this, they lose major coinage with their staff.
What are the reasons that this happens?
- Often there needed to be more adequate conversation and dialogue before the project was assigned, leaving staff unaware of the leader's true intentions.
- Many leaders simply think they know best and believe it is their responsibility to make the calls.
- Often, leaders are moving way too fast to pay proper attention to what is happening leaving them with little time for dialogue, so they helicopter down, make their pronouncements, and then helicopter off again. Their touchdowns can leave chaos in their wake, and they are unaware of how their actions impact their staff.
- Many leaders think that things should be done one way: Their way. So when a different way is tried, they feel that they need to intervene.
What is the answer? It is to understand what altitude one should be flying at and staying at that altitude, allowing others to fly at their altitude and do their work. There can always be discussion and dialogue, but those at lower altitudes often know much better the issues they are dealing with. I discuss this issue of altitude in my book Leading From The Sandbox. Understanding the proper altitude leaders should be flying is one of the critical components of healthy leadership.
Remember that every leader's actions have ripple effects on their staff. The more senior the leader, the more ripples there are. At times one must pivot quickly, and that is appreciated by staff. However, when senior leaders regularly dip down to 5,000 feet when they ought to be flying at 30,000 feet, they need to appreciate the impact on staff. Find your altitude, take the time to dialogue with staff, so you know where they are and what they are doing, and honor them as colleagues by not changing their plans on a whim.