When I sit too close to them, I inevitably suffocate them with my safety concerns and guidance.

I’m normally not a helicopter parent, we don’t call our kids free range savages for nothing. I have,however, noticed how easy it is to shout commands and concerns to them when I am within speaking distance. So after providing clear instructions, I decided to watch from a distance while they played.

I created more distance between me and the kids so the mindless and automatic “ watch your step” and “try going the other way” comments would take more effort then they were actually worth.

This is what I witnessed:

1. Stratton would test a rock to ensure it was safe to step on and then Tempie followed his path. (She trusted him)

2. When they made a poor stepping stone choice on the way across, they avoided that stone on the way back. (Learned from their mistakes)

3. They took a path, I wouldn’t have, it was not necessarily the safest, but it was extremely creative.

4. Stratton is a great leader (when I’m not telling him what to do)

5. They played longer than normal, probably because it was more fun and challenging

6. They felt extremely accomplished and proud when they were done.

7. They survived, had fun, and were safe without me having to dictate their every move

8. They didn’t ask me what to do every 10 minutes. They figured it out to the best of their ability

9. They didn’t keep looking to me for approval or in fear of not making the choice I wanted.

10. It was not how I would have played, but it was how they played and if playing was the goal does it really matter?

How often do we do this in our work life? When it comes to delegating tasks or letting go of responsibilities we tend to hover over people to make sure everything is how we want it to be.

Just like a mom, we hover because we care, we want the best for them, and we want to breed success. Unfortunately, we end up stifling creativity and poisoning our culture with distrust.

If you want to be a servant leader you must stop being a helicopter delegator. Just like with my kids, when you remain too close to the situation, it’s easy to find and comment on all the “little things.” To the person receiving all the, so called, “help” it feels like a band-aid slowing being ripped off. (It sucks!)

I imagine my kids playing on the rocks and every five minutes me commenting, correcting, suggesting or complaining to them (yes, out of love) but nonetheless consistently chipping away at their ability to think for themselves and learn from their own choices (good or bad).

The same is true for mentees and coworkers.

As servant leaders we must:

  • Clearly define the goal
  • Provide clear instructions/concerns
  • Remain close enough to intercept any possible catastrophic issues
  • Remain far enough away to allow people to “do their thing”
  • Provide an opportunity afterwards to discuss the gap. (The gap is the difference between the clearly defined goal and what actually happened.)This discussion is a mentoring opportunity, and is done in one sitting with personal and professional growth and improvement in mind- not conformity.

It can be scary, unsettling and downright uncomfortable to sit back and watch things unravel differently then you “had planned.” However, if the goal is for leaders to create more leaders we must allow people to actually LEAD.

Will things always end perfectly? No. Can mistakes cost us time and money?Absolutely. But….. and it’s a big but. The freedom we inspire, allow and receive is immeasurable.

When we stop helicoptering, our children and mentees get the freedom to independently learn and grow. In all honestly though, as mentors and parents we are set free too.

  • No longer do we have to worry about things being perfect.
  • No longer do we anticipate what could go wrong.
  • No longer do we feel the burden of everyone else’s mistakes and learning experiences
  • No longer do we feel the need to criticize and correct everything in the name of “helping.”

Remember whether it’s your kids, your friends, or your employees: Leading people should always be about THEM and their experience, and when we hover, we make it about US and our intent.

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