Here’s How Corporate Helicopter Parents Zap Creativity

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Synopsis

Do you know some corporate helicopter leaders and could their overbearing desire to make their employees thrive actually crush their creativity?

As I collected my things following a talk at an Omaha conference, an individual started speaking with me about the lack of problem solving and creativity within his company, I'll call him Jim. He wanted to inspire a more creative culture. He seemed to have all the pieces in place. He loved his employees, cared for them and gave them the tools to do their job. Despite this great news, he was hitting some invisible road blocks. He was completely perplexed. How could these brilliant people he hired, get it so wrong?


As we spoke, we began to dig deeper into his stengths, weaknesses and challenges. I didn't really notice anything really out of the ordinary until finally my ears perked up when he told me, "every time I hand a project over or give someone a directive, they mess it up somehow and I have to fix everything." After I poked and prodded a little bit, Jim and I got to the real issue. Jim loved his employees and wanted to see them succeed but without him realizing it, he was becoming the corporate equivalent of a helicopter parent.

You're likely familiar with helicopter parents. They are great people, but they can't leave their kids alone for a second and if they do, they leave the unfortunate caretaker a thick novel on their particular style of parenting. 

When Jim's "child" skinned a knee, he wouldn't encourage them and push them forward, he would coddle them and patch their wound. He hired some brilliant people, but brilliant people result from many years of learning through failure. These brilliant employees weren't allowed to express the very trait that made them brilliant in the first place: Judgement free failure and the freedom to fix or learn from that failure.

Jim's a great guy, and we all have blind spots, but his constant monitoring and desire to "swoop in" and fix everything was making a culture where trust is more scarce than my dog's obedience training when a guest comes over. 

Employees pick up on patterns like this and they start a pattern of self doubt. Upon the first sign of frustration they were almsot instantly backing off to let Jim fix the problem. Jim was eager to do it. The work environemnt started becoming a "busy" culture, where Jim is constantly being pulled in every direction putting out fires, and meanwhile no one is entirely sure of what their overall mission or objective is. It can also cause great employees to begin to resent their leader and each other.

By his own acknowledgement, Jim isn't flawless. It's not as if only his employees are making mistakes. Because the buck stops him however, he is forced to fix his mistakes and benefits from that learning process, but but that same privilege wasn't being extended to his staff. He was growing, but his staff wasn't. 

Let your team work, let them figure it out and let them learn. Intervene only when absolutely necessary and when you do, give your employee the opportunity to fix their error, don't fix it for them. Ask questions so they come to conclusions on their own. When they do fix it, your company will be stronger, more creative and will solve problems before you even know they exist. You're wildly creative culture awaits you...

Justin Brady likes to write, speak and work with loving leaders on how to organically cultivate creativity in their organization. Find him on Twitter @justinbrady. This piece and others like it can be found on his blog.

Tags: creativity in business, experimentation, failure, helicopter parents, justin brady, leadership, team management, team performance, teamwork

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