The Helicopter Boss Syndrome

Putting Micromanagement under the Microscope


It’s near impossible to hit “big picture” goals and intricately manage every moving piece at the same time. Many managers have allowed themselves to fall into the “Helicopter” style of management, which stifles creativity and demotivates people. The good news is that once recognized, this unproductive and unhealthy habit can be broken.

Research indicates that one of the top reasons people leave companies is because of poor relationships with their managers. People like to feel they are capable of doing a good day’s work, and would not stay in a position where they feel their manager isn’t confident that they can do an efficient job on their own. Replacing these employees can cost up to 2.5 times of their salaries, which takes its toll on the company’s bottom line.


Allowing people to do a good job and learn positively from their mistakes is key to the health and growth of everyone involved. For Helicopter bosses, the hardest part of letting go and empowering others is their driving need to “control” everything. But the days of command-and-control are fast disappearing and managers who feel compelled to micromanage need to “reboot” and upgrade their style of management or run the risk of becoming obsolete.


Today’s employees appreciate working with managers and leaders who offer challenging opportunities to unlock their potential and creativity, and create a “no-fear”, autonomous environment. Under a constant gaze people begin to lose faith in their own abilities, and to remedy this means allowing them to have space to do their job and learn from their mistakes.


Granted, there is a certain amount of management necessary to advance people in their careers and keep them aligned with company goals. But executives and managers must learn to let go and trust, or risk alienating their talent. While the line between effective, involved leadership and micromanaging can be thin; many employees have felt the effects at one point or another of a manager whose management style is more overbearing than hands-on and collaborative.


Micromanaging can show up in many forms, but most typically in bosses who dictate how employees complete tasks, question employees’ judgments, frequently ask for updates, and check on staff incessantly. Helicopter bosses hover over their employees and want to make all the decisions. Employees are not allowed to take risks or solve problems on their own.


When employees feel they are being put under a microscope, it can have a negative impact on their behavior and a vicious circle begins:

- They don't perform up to standard

- An inaccurate picture is created

- Their employee performance gets affected

- The micromanaging manager feels justified

- The cycle continues and gets worse


Why does the Helicopter Syndrome start?


Many helicopter bosses feel the need to hover in order to monitor efficiency, or to keep things on track, especially if an employee has erred in the past. But most micromanagers do so out of a need for control that often has more to do with their own control issues than the performance of their employees.


Often this need is rooted in growing up with over-controlling parents which can create the following: