An interesting article by Adam Grant, “The Helicopter Manager,” got me wondering how many people are stuck working with this type of manager.

The article cites a study by Sandy Lim of the National University of Singapore which suggests this type of manager interferes with employees’ learning, causing damage to confidence, and creating more dependence rather than independence.

A good manager can allow a worker to figure things out on their own, as well as complete a task or project imperfectly as a learning experience.  Some mistakes have huge consequences and some can be fixed by changing a few data fields on a document.  How you react is important to your personal growth and business improvement skills.

You must be able to assume some risk and expect to not always be perfect.  The trick is figuring out how much to risk, if it is safe to do so and what harm will come if you are wrong.  A manager assumes the full risk of any harm a project may cause so if it is large, you should consult someone.  If it is small, fear not!  As Mr. Grant points out, management can and should present difficulties that can be dealt with by an employee.

Think back on projects that came easy to you …accomplished quickly, turned in timely, and praise was heaped on you.  Did you learn anything from that?

Now contemplate something that didn’t go quite as planned.  You missed deadlines or a step in a project; you failed to consult a key player; an advertising campaign went awry for which you were responsible.  How do you feel now, just thinking about it?  Do you cringe still, or do you shrug your shoulders as water under the bridge?  You’ve moved on and become better because of the mistake.

If you are working for a helicopter manager, one that tells you exactly how to do your job and what to say in an email; one who immediately jumps in and takes over if there is an issue, you need to let him or her know that you want the opportunity to handle issues on your own and ask for assistance when you need it.

Managers, who are not helicopter managers, rarely interfere and do not micro-manage, yet are responsive when asked for help.  Just as your performance criteria is written clearly for you to understand and follow, your communication needs to be clear to your manager so that they understand how you prefer to be managed.  I once had a boss many, many years ago in the age of typewriters that preferred blue ink which was not correctable!  He stood over my shoulder which made me nervous and I kept making mistakes and having to throw his expensive stationary away.  I finally looked up at him and said, “You need to go into your office and stop looking over my shoulder if you want this letter done.”  He did, I completed the letter, and never had that issue again.  By the way, that boss was a Dale Carnegie Course (“Win Friends and Influence People”) franchise owner!

What kind of manager do you have?  Is communication open where you feel comfortable giving opinions and asking for help?  Have you assessed your own comfort level of risk taking at work?