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Are you a helicopter leader?

As many of you know, I love kids! Last Monday, I made a last minute decision to take my 4 kiddos on an after school visit to the Oregon Zoo. In this instance, I was the only adult and severely out numbered. My kid count included a set of twins age 3, a kindergartner and a 2nd grader. Now, how many of you might be thinking, "this girls is nuts!!!"? If I was reading this blog, I might think the same too. However, our trip to the zoo could not have gone any smoother.

In this situation and in most group situations, I approached it very similar to a coach and his/her team. As the solo adult, I knew that if I tried to take on all of the responsibility and micromanage all 4 children plus myself, I was destined to feel like I was spinning plates on wire rods. Now, I am no circus expert but I do know a few things about leadership such as giving away power and responsibility.

Now the question is, who did I give the responsibility too? My answer is the kindergartner and 2nd grader! I partnered both big kids with a little kid and then had two teams of two rather than four teams of one.  Many of you might be thinking, you gave that much responsibility to a kindergartner??? My answer is ABSOLUTELY!

The thing about human behavior and leadership is that if we treat people as though they are not capable of being responsible, they never will be. I didn't give each big kid a toddler and say, "see you later and leave the zoo!". I gave them each a toddler and told them that they were responsible for each other and it actually motivated the teams to work together. They knew I believed in them and therefore they believed in themselves.

So why is it that we sometimes have the natural tendency to helicopter lead? I believe that it is often rooted in 3 common fears. The fear of losing control, the fear of not getting others approval and the fear of losing personal security or safety. When we learn to identify our helicopter behaviors we can then ask ourselves why we are behaving that way and is that behavior rooted in one of the three common leadership fears and work towards releasing that fear and letting go. 

As I have learned to have a more hands off approach to leadership, it has made situations such as going to the zoo with four kids much less stressful and a lot more fun. I feel like I have lost 150lbs of fear and emotional baggage. I am no longer carrying the load of 4 kids but am now able to lead as an outsider looking in. I am able to release them in pairs and help facilitate small course corrections vs trying to manage them all. As a coach and leader, I was successful because I empowered others by giving away responsibility. It didn't matter their age or experience, my objective was for them to learn through their experiences.

My challenge for you this week is to take a look inside your life and leadership and ask yourself, "am I helicopter leading?" In what areas can I let go of some of the responsibility and put others in charge? How can I lead with a hands off approach?

One thing I know about leading others is that we need to give them enough space to breath and learn through their own mistakes and challenges. Our job as leaders is to allow them to fail but never reach failure. To fail means to learn and try again but failure means to give up completely and being a helicopter leader only leads to resistance. I gave power and responsibility to a kindergartner...who can you give it too?


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