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Ducks in a Row: Helicoptering Adults

May 14th, 2013 by Miki Saxon

http://www.flickr.com/photos/akandbdl/4930526656/Helicopter parents are a serious problem that cripples kids and doesn’t seem to end when they enter the workforce; plus it can have a detrimental effect on good managers.

The helicopter mindset is spreading, so that people who are inclined that way are also hovering over spouses, friends and colleagues in the name of helping.

New research shows that it isn’t a good thing.

It seems that certain forms of help can dilute recipients’ sense of accountability for their own success.

When managers helicopter most people feel it’s a form of micromanaging, but when the source is a parent, spouse, friend or colleague people are more open to it.

Unfortunately, the results are the same.

People end up with less confidence in their abilities, take less responsibility for their own actions and question their own competence more.

How do you help without either helicoptering or micromanaging?

The answer, research suggests, is that our help has to be responsive to the recipient’s circumstances: it must balance their need for support with their need for competence. We should restrain our urge to help unless the recipient truly needs it, and even then, we should calibrate it to complement rather than substitute for the recipient’s efforts.

Which, in turn, means shutting up and really listening to your child/spouse/friend/colleague to determine the minimum of what is really needed.

Finally, it takes enough self-discipline to allow them to fail and then pick themselves up.

That’s how everyone learns and grows.

Flickr image credit: Keith Laverack

Leadership’s Future: Helicopter Parents

January 28th, 2010 by Miki Saxon

Hovering parents, who strive to make everything right for their child, are the global bane of education.

But it doesn’t seem to end when their child graduates.

I receive at least a call a month from managers who have no idea of a polite way to deal with what can only be called workplace hovering.

In every case the parental call was either to

  • tell the manager how stupid she was not to hire their kid;
  • find out why their kid’s review wasn’t stuffed with glowing references; or
  • ask who the hell the manager thought he was to promote someone else.

Managers say that in many cases the parent was screaming and the language used to describe the manager is best not quotable in a business blog.

What in the world is going on?

Many of the parents calling are managers in their own right; I wonder how they handle similar calls.

I could write another 500 words on the subject and not do nearly as good a job putting the point across as does the following (in spite of it being a hoax)—perhaps a modified version could be designed for companies.

Image credit: marshe5 on YouTube

Golden Oldies: Hiring Newbies

July 3rd, 2017 by Miki Saxon

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over more than a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written.

Golden Oldies are a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

I wrote this post four years ago; the problem wasn’t new then and its gotten progressively worse since.

People today, not just Millennials and not all Millenials, don’t communicate well. People at all ages and levels, including CEOs are poor commicators — and if you doubt that, take a look at Whole Foods CEO John Mackey’s speech at the town hall meeting after the Amazon acquisition. Written communications aren’t much of an improvement, even ignoring grammar and spelling errors, they often have little clarity, flow, or even coherence.

Texting has resulted in still worse writing, especially as people disperse with details like capital letters that can totally change the meaning.

“Capitalization is the difference between helping your Uncle Jack off a horse and helping your uncle jack off a horse.”

And thanks to the overall focus on STEM education you can expect it to get even worse.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/evoo73/9140462500/Do you groan at the thought of having to hire and manage new-to-the-workforce people?

Do you wonder what’s wrong with today’s college graduates?

If so, remember two things.

  1. The problems are not a product of your imagination.
  2. You are not alone.

Multiple studies find the same problems I hear first-hand from managers.

“When it comes to the skills most needed by employers, job candidates are lacking most in written and oral communication skills, adaptability and managing multiple priorities, and making decisions and problem solving.”  –special report by The Chronicle of Higher Education and American Public Media’s Marketplace

“Problems with collaboration, interpersonal skills, the ability to deal with ambiguity, flexibility and professionalism.” –Mara Swan, the executive vice president of global strategy and talent at Manpower Group

What’s changed?

Helicopter parents, crowdsourced decisions, me/my world focus, and the constant noise that prevents thinking.

The result is that many new hires require remedial actions from already overloaded mangers that go well beyond the professional growth coaching that typifies the best managers.

Flickr image credit: evoo73

Ducks in a Row: Educating For The Future

June 27th, 2017 by Miki Saxon

St. John’s College

Yesterday we revisited Does Education = Thinking?; today is a look at what education actually needs to do to accomplish that.

Education focuses on developing and boosting inherent smarts for career purposes, but the definition of smarts is radically changing.

“The new smart will be determined not by what or how you know but by the quality of your thinking, listening, relating, collaborating, and learning.” –Ed Hess, Professor of Business Administration and Batten Executive-in-Residence at the Darden Graduate School of Business and co-author of Humility Is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age,

The new smart will include a high degree of empathy — not a common trait in highly educated men.

A growing real-world demand for workers with empathy and a talent for making other people feel at ease requires a serious shift in perspective. (…) SEL programmes in the US explicitly teach students strategies for developing empathy, managing their own emotions and working with others.

“The need for imagination, a sense of truth, and a feeling of responsibility — these three forces are the very nerve of education.” –Rudolf Steiner

Waldorf schools are private (not cheap) and based on Steiner’s ideas. The schools have no tech — no computers, no iPads, no iPhones. There’s one in San Francisco and 75% of its student body are the children of tech executives.

Three of my sister’s grand kids attended the Waldorf in Denver; according to my sister, “Waldorf kids are usually ahead of other kids when they reach regular school.  It’s a very impressive regimen they follow.”

There is no argument that education is critical, but is education about learning specifics that fit kids for jobs today or should it be more?

Shouldn’t it, in fact, fit them for the yet-to-be imagined careers of tomorrow.

Put another way, AI can be taught to code, taking programmer jobs in another kind of outsourcing, but, on its own, AI can’t conceptualize what to code.

Just as importantly, or perhaps even more so, is the need for education to offset helicopter parents, who have followed their kids from college to the workplace. From the comments…

There are many young millennials employed where I work. Many are unable to navigate the most basic work interactions and have no idea about professional or workplace etiquette. (…) These young folks typically have a very difficult time when faced with any conflict because they have never had to think for themselves or handle difficult life situations by themselves.

What does it take to educate kids to think for themselves in spite of over-involved parents and the world they live in? What is needed to live and work successfully in 2030 and beyond?

A recent Pew Research Center survey of 1,408 technology and education professionals suggested that the most valuable skills in the future will be those that machines can’t yet easily replicate, like creativity, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, adaptability and collaboration. In short, people need to learn how to learn, because the only hedge against a fast-changing world is the ability to think, adapt and collaborate well.

Is that the secret sauce that makes the Ivies so prestigious and expensive? Not really.

Ever heard of St John’s College?

Like Waldorf, St John’s specializes in learning how to learn and has done so since 1696.

St. John’s offers only the Program; it’s prix fixe is a higher education world of a la carte. Four years of literature, language, philosophy, political science and economy, and math. Three years of laboratory science, and two of music. That’s it. No contemporary social studies. No accounting. No computer classes. No distinct majors or minors. (…)

This curriculum is carefully designed not only to build knowledge, but also to understand how knowledge is ultimately created; it is teaching students how to learn. In this respect, St. John’s students de facto major in epistemology. And for those of us who never studied Ancient Greek (a St. John’s requirement for two years), epistemology is the philosophy of knowledge, or the investigation of what distinguishes substantiated and supportable belief from mere opinion.

These are the skills that abound in true leaders, but are feared and despised by pundits, ideologues, despots. politicians, command and control bosses, and others too numerous to list.

Image credit: Preservation Maryland

How To Become An Adult

March 22nd, 2017 by Miki Saxon

Sometimes people seem to forget that kids grow up and become adults.

Or they used to.

The responsibility for most of the problem can be laid at the feet of their parents and their helicopter approach to raising their offspring. Most ironically, they complain when job candidates sport the same attitudes as their own kids.

Other factors retarding adulthood include the escapism offered by today’s video games, especially for under-30 males, the lack of interpersonal skills driven by social media, along with social media’s unsubtle efforts to foster addiction in the name of profit.

And, of course, the largest factor being family and friends, whose emotional and financial support, enable a relatively comfortable living situation.

The difficulty today’s young adults are having in becoming actual adults was the impetus for (what else) a startup.

Rachel Weinstein, a psychotherapist, and Katie Brunelle, a former elementary school teacher and coach, responded by creating the Adulting School, a place for people to gain the skills they need to feel like an adult, from goal-setting and sheet-fitting to how to manage money or hang a picture.

Simon Senek, a British author and motivational speaker, also blames parents for the false expectations of so many Millennials, who never were given the chance to learn/live the process of achievement.

“Everything you want you can have instantaneously, except for job satisfaction and strength of relationships,” Senek argues. “There’s no app for that; they are slow, meandering, uncomfortable processes.”

Whatever you think about a school that teaches adults how to be adults the real question is: in what direction will the next generation go?

Image credit: the Adulting School

October Leadership Development Carnival

October 7th, 2015 by Miki Saxon


The Leadership Development Carnival is hosted at home this month; home being Becky Robinson’s Lead Change.

It being October, Becky used a sports analogy, saying the posts are home runs, which they are

However, October means Halloween to me, which is also fitting, considering the number of treats offered and nary a trick to be found.

So without further ado, read, learn and enjoy.

Anne Perschel of Germane Consulting submitted Lead with a Smile and Discover What Happens. Anne shares, “Ed, an Engineering Director, has a habit of mind that immediately sees what could go wrong in any given situation. There’s always something, and often lots of somethings, that could go wrong. But one day, Ed saw the lighter side of a situation, and…read what happened.” Locate Anne on Twitter at @bizshrink.

Bill Treasurer of Giant Leap Consulting contributed Opening the Thought-Shifting Door. Bill writes, ” Leaders need to know how to shift people’s thinking. Real opportunities can be found in convincing people to become imaginative by freeing them from narrow, negative, or habitual thinking. You may be surprised to hear that encouraging thought-shifting is not as difficult or complicated as it may seem.” Follow Bill on Twitter at @btreasurer.

Bruce Harpham of Project Management Hacks submitted How To Lead Virtual Teams. Bruce summarizes, “How do you lead a team that is distributed across the country or across the world? In this article, I share best practices for leaders leading a virtual team including recommended tools.” Discover Bruce on Twitter at @PMPhacks.

Chris Edmonds of the Purposeful Culture Group contributed Where the Human Spirit Goes to Die. Chris describes the post: “Our workplaces – around the globe – are not inspiring, engaging, productive environments for us to work in. Chris sheds light on a study that shows what people need – and how to create it.” Follow Chris on Twitter at @scedmonds.

Dan McCarthy of Great Leadership submitted 10 Ways to Keep  Cool and Composed. Dan writes, “When a leader lets their emotions get the better of them they can quickly develop a reputation as volatile, moody, defensive, or having a lack of leadership presence. Unfortunately, all it takes is one public outburst. What can a leader do to keep cool under pressure?” Find Dan on Twitter at @GreatLeadership.

David Dye of Trailblaze, Inc., shared A Secret of Success at Leadership and Life. In this article, David shares a powerful metaphor for leadership which contrasts confusion and clarity. Discover David on Twitter at @davidmdye.

Jesse Lyn Stoner of the Seapoint Center provided Are Your Employees Turning You Into a Helicopter Manager?. Jesse summarized: “What happens when Millennials who are used to ‘helicopter parents’ enter the workforce? You may be turning into a helicopter boss without realizing it. Here’s why, what they really need, and what you can do as a manager.” Follow Jesse on Twitter at @JesseLynStoner.

Jill Malleck of Epiphany at Work contributed Four Ways to Be an Active Leader. Jill shares, “busy leaders can find themselves only responding to this and that. True leadership means shaking it up and making new moves. Here’s 4 easy ways to do that.” Find Jill on Twitter at @epiphanyatwork.

Jim Taggart of Changing Winds submitted Black Swans: The Achilles Heel of Leadership. Jim says, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the world were predictable–or at least somewhat predictable? It would certainly make the job of top organizational leaders and politicians in power that much easier. But that’s not how it is; it never has been in fact.” Find Jim on Twitter at @72keys.

Joel Garfinkle of the Career Advancement Blog submitted Is it a Myth? Can you Actually Achieve Work-Life Balance? Joel recaps: “Balancing work and a personal life is becoming an increasingly common problem in today’s hyper-competitive world. Here are ten strategies for creating and maintaining work-life balance.” Discover Joel on Twitter at @JoelGarfinkle.

John Hunter of the Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog provided What to Do To Create a Continual Improvement Culture. John explains, “Leaders must create systems that encourage others to succeed and make the organization more effective. When leaders allow themselves to be removed from what is really going on in the organization they damage the organization. In order to build an organization that inspires people to be creative and engaged a leader needs to build a management system that makes that a reality.” Follow John on Twitter at @curiouscat_com.

Jon Mertz of Thin Difference sent The Diverse Tales of Kickstarter and Volkswagen. Jon sumarizes: “Trust is not an intangible. ​It’​s concrete in what it can do and what it can destroy when misused.​ What leadership lessons can we learn from these two tales of trust playing out in mainstream media?​” Discover Jon on Twitter @ThinDifference.

Karin Hurt of Let’s Grow Leaders shared What Happens When We Really Listen. She summarizes “Real listening transforms us. I was blessed by someone “really listening” to me recently.” Locate Karin on Twitter at @LetsGrowLeaders.

Lexie Martin of Leadership Directions sent Seven Leadership Superpowers Managers Can Use to Inspire, Engage and Retain their Gen Y EmployeesIn this in-depth guide, Lexie shares how and when managers of all ages can use support, vision, progress, balance, coaching, humility, and make real connections to reduce turnover and improve performance.

Lisa Kohn of The Thoughtful LeadersTM Blog provided For Greater Leadership, Lose These Two Words. In this piece, Lisa shares shares a common two-word phrase that many of us overuse and that we need to stop saying. It lessens our credibility and hurts us. Follow Lisa on Twitter at @ThoughtfulLdrs.

Mary Jo Asmus of Aspire Collaborative Services, LLC, contributed Meeting them where they are. This post explains: Whatever someone has done that annoys you isn’t relevant in the present moment, and it doesn’t help to judge others by their past behaviors. The secret to better work relationships is to meet others where they are. Find Mary Jo on Twitter at @mjasmus.

Miki Saxon of RampUp Solutions, Inc, contributed Ducks in a Row: The What and How of Culture. Miki continues, “Everybody recognizes that changing culture in a large enterprise is difficult.But why is it that the most critical action required in changing culture is rarely, if ever, mentioned?” Discover Miki on Twitter at @OptionSanity.

Neal Burgis, Ph.D. of Burgis Successful Solutions submitted Believe You are Creative? Neal summarizes: “To be a leader in a creative and innovative organization, you must learn to be creative. Here are some basics to help get you started.” Find Neal on Twitter at @exec_solutions.

Paul LaRue of  The UPWards Leader contributed 7 Encouraging Signs That You’re On Target. Paul believes, “If you doubt that you’re progressing towards your goals, a look at these markers will show you that you’re on track.” Learn more about Paul on Twitter at @paul_larue.

Randy Conley of Leading With Trust submitted Your First Five Steps When Leading a New Team. Randy shares: “You only get one chance to make a first impression when taking on a new leadership role, so it’s critically important you start on the right foot. This post provides helpful advice that will get you started on the path to success.” Follow Randy on Twitter at @RandyConley.

Susan Mazza of Random Acts Of Leadership submitted The Alternative to Fixing Poor Performance. Susan explains: “Fixing people is exhausting, because you never will be done. But there’s an alternative: leading people to own their results and holding them accountable for being their best.” Find Susan on Twitter at @susanmazza.

Tanveer Naseer of Tanveer Naseer shared Learning To Focus On What Matters Most. He says this post is, “a look at what leaders need to focus on in order to succeed at motivating their employees in bringing their very best to the work they do.” Follow Tanveer on Twitter at @tanveernaseer.

Wally Bock of Three Star Leadership contributed When a Team Member Brings You an Idea. Wally writes, “People have ideas all the time, even at work. So why don’t they share them? How can you change that situation? ” Find Wally on Twitter at @wallybock.

Hiring Newbies

July 8th, 2013 by Miki Saxon

http://www.flickr.com/photos/evoo73/9140462500/Do you groan at the thought of having to hire and manage new-to-the-workforce people?

Do you wonder what’s wrong with today’s college graduates?

If so, remember two things.

  1. The problems are not a product of your imagination.
  2. You are not alone.

Multiple studies find the same problems I hear first-hand from managers.

“When it comes to the skills most needed by employers, job candidates are lacking most in written and oral communication skills, adaptability and managing multiple priorities, and making decisions and problem solving.”  –special report by The Chronicle of Higher Education and American Public Media’s Marketplace

“Problems with collaboration, interpersonal skills, the ability to deal with ambiguity, flexibility and professionalism.” –Mara Swan, the executive vice president of global strategy and talent at Manpower Group

What’s changed?

Helicopter parents, crowdsourced decisions, me/my world focus, and the constant noise that prevents thinking.

The result is that many new hires require remedial actions from already overloaded mangers that go well beyond the professional growth coaching that typifies the best managers.

Flickr image credit: evoo73

Tiger Results (not what you think)

May 15th, 2013 by Miki Saxon

The first major study of tiger moms is out. The kids have worse grades, and they are more depressed and more alienated from their parents. –Slate, May 8, 2013

http://www.flickr.com/photos/marisatbee/6793286545/Did you ever notice that most of today’s research on parenting equates closely with today’s research on managing and, given the difference in situations, results in almost identical outcomes?

When I first read about “tiger moms” I found the actions, such as shaming, very much akin to some of the worst management practices I’ve seen.

Like the negative effects of helicoptering mentioned yesterday, tiger bosses should expect the same negative results from those they manage that new research has proven results from tiger parents.

Children of parents whom Kim classified as “tiger” had lower academic achievement and attainment—and greater psychological maladjustment—and family alienation, than the kids of parents characterized as “supportive” or “easygoing.”

OF course, this comes as no surprise to anyone who works/worked for a tiger boss.

Flickr image credit: Marisa

Leadership’s Future: How Will They Lead?

August 26th, 2010 by Miki Saxon

I received the following email yesterday (edited for length and anonymity).


With 20+ years of experience managing I thought I had seen it all, but I have a situation that I am at a loss on how to handle.

Short version, 6 months ago I hired an entry level engineer, with just a year of experience, but lots of potential I thought. Potential he is not living up to. I do not see the energy, initiative and go-get-’em attitude he projected in the interview. His peers complain that he is not pulling his weight and he acts as if showing up and performing at minimal level is enough. He has received positive input when he does something well, but I have been candid regarding the problems, offered suggestions for improving, etc., and blunt talk that if both his work and his attitude didn’t change he couldn’t stay.

So when all this came up again in his 6 month review I was taken aback when he acted like it was the first time he had heard any of this. OK, I’ve run into denial before, nothing new there.

But what totally floored me and the main reason for writing is that the day after his review I received a phone call from his parents (they were both on the line) demanding to know who the hell I thought I was not to give their son a 6 month promotion.

I said I was in a meeting and would get back to them; any suggestions besides the obvious none of your damn business.

I called him and after a bit more discussion he agreed that it would be best to turn this mess over to the company HR department. Fortunately, they were already aware of the problem and he had plenty of documentation to back up both the performance problems and the ongoing conversations about them.

The parental call was the final nail and the young man will be terminated for cause.

hoveringWe all read articles about helicopter parents, in fact, I just read one on how great a problem hovering is for colleges.

Some undergraduate officials see in parents’ separation anxieties evidence of the excesses of modern child-rearing. “A good deal of it has to do with the evolution of overinvolvement in our students’ lives,” said Mr. Dougharty of Grinnell. “These are the baby-on-board parents, highly invested in their students’ success. They do a lot of living vicariously, and this is one manifestation of that.”

What really angered me was the way the episode affected the manager. He found himself questioning his own skills, as if he could have done anything that would offset 23 years (and counting) of parental protection.

What chance do any of these coddled kids have at maturing into leaders, not only positional ones, but de facto leaders? Will their parents help articulate a vision and then chastise those who don’t follow?

What do you think?

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wilsonb/2897692632/

Leadership’s Future: Give Kids a Chance

June 17th, 2010 by Miki Saxon

You know the old saying, ‘damned if you do and damned if you don’t’; for kids it’s more like ‘damned when they do and damned when others don’t’.

mediocrity-is-a-sinKids stand less chance of developing into strong, balanced, ethical adults now than in past decades; not just in the US, but globally—they are heading for mediocrity.

If you think I’m being overly pessimistic consider the following.

In yet another nod to the protection of fledgling self-esteem, an Ottawa children’s soccer league has introduced a rule that says any team that wins a game by more than five points will lose by default. …

“The new rule, suggested by “involved parents,” is a temporary measure that will be replaced by a pre-season skill assessment to make fair teams.” (Hat tip to Elliot Ross for leading me to this article.)

Great lesson to teach our future leaders—don’t excel, don’t try too hard, don’t strive too much, don’t field a winning team and, whatever you do, don’t follow in the footsteps of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Magic Johnson, Dr. Jonas Salk or any of those who surpassed their peers by a wide margin.

Helicopter parents are nothing new, but their actions are getting more outlandish. And whoever said that life is fair?

Meanwhile, here in the land No Child Left Behind, the pressures have gotten so great that some teachers and administrators have turned to a repellent solution.

Experts who consult with school systems estimated that 1 percent to 3 percent of teachers — thousands annually — cross the line between accepted ways of boosting scores, like using old tests to prep students, and actual cheating.

Cheating ranges from accessing current tests and using the questions in test prep classes to tampering with tests by correcting incorrect answers.

Cheating seems to be a fact of life these days and not just the US; when you add the pressure of funding and paychecks people have been known to make rotten decisions.

People rant on about what teachers are paid, but, in fact, they make far less than your average teen babysitter.

The average teacher’s salary (nation-wide) is $50,000. $50,000/180 days = $277.77/per day/30 students=$9.25/6.5 hours = $1.42 per hour.

Keep in mind that the 6.5 hours doesn’t count meetings, preparation, study, admin or any of the other things teachers have to do.

And that $1.42 is to educate, not babysit, them.

Try hiring a neighbor kid for that and you’ll get laughed off the block

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thost/170369652/

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