In my many years of consulting with organizations one of the prevelant complaints of staff is the helicopter management of senior leaders. Staff are given responsibility for something and they work hard to figure it our. Then, a senior leader "helicopters" in to adjust the plan or redo it entirely.
I often ask staff when they describe this to me how this management style makes them feel. Their answer is almost always the same: They feel 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 end up feeling marginalized and unappreciated. This does not mean that the leader meant to send those messages but their actions do just that. Every time a leader does this they lose major coinage with their staff.
What are the reasons that this happens?
- Often there was not adequate conversation and dialogue before the project was assigned leaving staff unaware of the true intentions of the leader
- Many leaders simply think that 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 not aware enough to understand 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? Very simply it is to understand what altitude one ought to be flying at and stay 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 what the issues are that 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 at is one of the key components of healthy leadership.
Remember that every leaders actions have ripple affects on their staff. The more senior the leader the more ripples their are. At times one must pivot quickly and that is appreciated by staff. What they do not appreciate is when senior leaders regularly dip down to 5,000 feet when they ought to be flying at 30,000 feet. 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.