You are here

Primary tabs

Written by: Glain Roberts-McCabe


We’ve all heard of how helicopter parenting is contributing to the decline of civilization as we know it. Over involved parents are raising over-scheduled, over-praised and over-protected children who become fragile adults struggling to transition into the ‘real world’ where criticisms are handed out more frequently than participation ribbons. Well, the same thing is happening in the workplace. Helicopter HR departments are shielding leaders from the new requirements of leadership by too frequently outsourcing skills that have quickly become non-negotiable. Those skills are “soft skills”.

As organizations move from command and control to collaborative and inclusive, todays leaders are required to be highly proficient in coaching, feedback and interpersonal communication while continuing to push for even more demanding business results. As one manager commented to me ‘I feel like I need a degree in psychology to be a manager today.’ No doubt that would certainly help.

Instead of helping managers build these crucial skillsets, Helicopter HR leaders have become unintentional gatekeepers by stepping in and taking care of anything that seems “too tricky”. “I’ll just send them to HR” is the pat response for too many line leaders who are then being enabled by their HR reps to pass the buck on conversations that get messy. Or even worse, they’re convincing their helpful HR colleagues that they need to outsource performance issues on to an external coach. Coaching should help individuals accelerate performance. Using it to “correct” performance is, simply put, a waste of time and money. Managers need to learn how to handle tough performance conversations themselves...not pass-the-buck to someone who has no power to make the tough calls on performance or hold people accountable on a day-to-day basis.

According to a recently released study by Deloitte, 86% of survey respondents felt that there was an urgent need to build leadership capability and yet only 6% felt that their pipeline was ‘very ready’. With leadership development being a $170 billion industry, the gap between investment and result is abysmal. Traditional approaches to developing leaders simply aren’t working as too many organizations continue to focus on leadership development as a ‘training event’ versus a ‘ongoing journey’. And yet, it’s a journey that is needed to help leaders develop the soft skill behaviours required to manage the ongoing complexities of today’s workplaces. Today’s leaders face a myriad of challenges, including:

More people are involved in the work we do. Fewer and fewer people find themselves working on projects end-to-end, alone. The majority of knowledge workers are involved in cross functional teams and get work done through people who don’t report to them directly. This demands an increase in collaboration and inclusiveness and the ability to build relationships quickly in order to get day-to-day activities done.

Speed of change and amount of data is increasing. With change being the new normal and data coming at a relentless pace, leaders need to work with others to innovate new ways of working and know who to talk to in order to pull out the data points that are relevant.

Pressure on productivity. After over a decade of “productivity improvements”, most organizations have hit the wall with what else can be cut, so instead are looking to “engagement” to boost results. Engagement demands trusted relationships that won’t come from transactional encounters.

New generation demands. Millennial employees are demanding more mentoring, career pathing and coaching from Boomer and GenX managers who are often ill equipped to navigate these types of conversations. Leadership is situational and this new generation is causing a new kind of demand on leaders soft-skill abilities.

Being able to handle tough conversations, engage and motivate your teams, adjust your behaviours depending on the leadership circumstances you face are not skills and that can or should be outsourced. Leadership is learned by doing. Collaborative work relationships don’t happen through a 1:1 coaching experience with an external coach or offsite in a classroom. Although there are places for these traditional approaches, “free range” HR leaders are taking the leap and widening the development options available to next generation executives by bringing coaching in house and executing it through innovative activities like peer to peer group learning and group mentoring circles.

For those who think their leaders “aren’t ready” to build their coaching skills and teach others, remember this: we learn best when we are forced beyond our comfort zones. Instead of enabling line leaders to foist these skills off on them or external providers, HR Leaders can exhibit some “tough love” by diverting some of the $12 billion in external coaching dollars into internal programs that give leaders a foundation of coaching skills and then allow them to use those skills to teach each other. Not unlike parents who suppress their children’s growth out of fear of them ‘not being ready’, Helicopter HR leaders who do the same are hurting everyone. Sure, your internal line leaders may not be as polished as an external coach but, with practice, they’ll get better and the broader benefits of this are too numerous to count. After all, if you give a person a coach you feed them for a day. Teach them to coach and you feed both them and their teams for a career lifetime.

Glain Roberts-McCabe (@HeyRoundtable) is founder and president of the The Roundtable Inc., a Toronto-based organization that specializes in leader-led and peer-driven coaching and mentoring programs for teams and cross functional leaders.

Glain willl be speaking at the CPHR Alberta 2017 Conference this April 26 & 27 in Edmonton.  For more information on the conference and to register, click here.