We all want to do the best for our children, keep them safe from harm and give them the best possible chances in life. But this well-intended love and support can at times actually be unhelpful. There are some clear parallels here when it comes to managing a team.
The Danish psychologist Bent Hougaard came up with the term ‘curling parent’ to describe those who insist on sweeping away anything that may get in the way of their children, their polished stones.
At the recent Winter Olympics many of us watched the curling events in wonder, marvelling at the vigorous and determined ‘sweeping’ that made way for the curling stone as it progressed towards its target.
So, imagine if you will the ‘curling parents’, continuously making sure that nothing is interfering with or negatively affecting their children.
There are even reports from companies of parents applying for and attending job interviews, then negotiating salaries and conditions on behalf of their children well into their 20s.
The problem is these young people then struggle to handle setbacks and challenges, they have less resilience and fewer tools to resolve problems. These children also tend to have a large need to be seen, recognised and admired.
This is not just a Scandinavian phenomenon. The same thing is happening in other countries, although known by different names, such as 'helicopter parents’, those constantly hovering ahead.
Apart from recognising that such children will be entering the workplace, by acknowledging this trend we learn that facing challenges and tackling setbacks are crucial parts of our learning and development. This is true not only in life, but in business too.
When we bring new team members into our practice and want to help them develop and grow, we must recognise that being too caring and helpful is not always in either their or our best interest. Holding a team member’s hand the whole way through the process can stand in the way of an individual genuinely learning and finding their own way, gaining confidence in their own abilities as they progress.
There are many pitfalls for managers to fall into which can result in them effectively becoming overly protective and stifling individual growth.
For example, there will be times where we point a team member in the right direction. This can be done either directly, through advice, or indirectly, through endorsement or permission to do something. By doing this we are in danger of solving a problem that ideally would have been resolved by the team member by themselves. Encouragement and support is a good thing, but when taken too far it takes responsibility away.
Managers should also be aware of team members looking for the easy way out, by asking for advice or looking for approval of the choice they're forming. This passes the burden of responsibility to the manager, and doesn’t encourage the team member to fully think through the options, weighing up the risks and taking ownership for their decision. It is of course also comforting for the team member, because if it goes wrong they can always blame their manager.
Similarly, it can be easy for managers to go down this route, as they will often enjoy feeling wanted and appreciated when they have solved the problem and 'spared' the team member.
But such an approach is usually more counterproductive than it is helpful. It reinforces the idea the team member is helpless to find their own path, and is actually remiss of the manager, who should be attending to their team's learning and development instead.
Avoiding the pitfalls
It is important to recognise development often comes with some discomfort and challenges - not only for the person being managed, but also for the one trying to guide that person forwards.
If you're aiming to help someone develop, try asking yourself a few questions:
- Are you challenging the person to learn from stretching themselves, both in terms of finding their own solutions and trying new things?
- Are you prepared to balance and manage the risk of failures and setbacks the team members may experience during their learning? If not, they may struggle to gain confidence and build resourcefulness.
- Are your skills good enough? Are you trained in coaching? Do you trust the coaching approach and the tools at your disposal?
- Do you allow your team members to explore their own thoughts and ideas fully before you offer your own? And do you ensure your ideas are not given undue importance, just because they come from you?
It takes a subtle yet important change in approach to management to facilitate better, more resourceful performance from your teams, and to implement learning and development opportunities for your staff.