Leadership

What's Worse Than a Micromanager? Meet the 'Lawnmower' Leader

Stepping in to solve your team members' problems robs them of the opportunity to develop crucial skills.
What's Worse Than a Micromanager? Meet the 'Lawnmower' Leader
Image credit: Westend61 | Getty Images
Guest Writer
Leadership expert, author of The Secrets Leaders Keep
4 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You've heard of helicopter parents and micromanaging bosses: figureheads who hover over their children or direct reports. Now, a new breed of “lawnmower” parents and bosses is emerging. 

In a recent post gone viral, a teacher shared an anecdote about a parent who dropped off an item his teenage daughter “desperately wanted.” The teacher assumed it'd be an inhaler or money for lunch -- something truly needed. Actually, it was a S'well water bottle. 

Lawnmower parents remove any adversity, obstacle or difficult conversation from their kids’ lives. In doing so, they truncate their children's emotional growth and maturation.

It happens in the workplace, too.

Imagine one of your team members complains about a challenging workload, a difficult deadline or a frustrating colleague -- and you handle it. For them.  Perhaps one of your direct reports forgets to prepare the appropriate materials for a presentation, so you're scrambling at the last minute to make it right. Or suppose you delegated a presentation deck and it comes back poorly thought-through, with lousy syntax and unsophisticated graphics. Instead of requesting changes, you stay up all night redoing it.

The list goes on and on, but your reaction is the same. You take care of it.

Why? Because it’s faster and easier in the moment to deal with it yourself (and of course, we all know it will be handled better when you do it).

Related: 3 Signs You Have Succumbed to Helicopter Management

There are serious ramifications here. Lawnmower leaders aren't really leading. They're undermining. When you remove accountability, you create a pattern for dysfunctional team dynamics, build an unhealthy culture and foster an immature workforce. The lawnmower approach prevents your employees from growing their communication and collaboration skills. It also prevents them from developing greater resiliency and confidence.

The trade-off isn't so great for you, either. Taking on others' work means you get less time, more stress and stronger headaches. Ironically, you're also sowing the seeds of resentment among team members who eventually will like you less. People want to follow leaders who make them feel good about themselves. The more experiences you take away from people to develop high levels of self-esteem and self-regard, the worse you make them feel about themselves over time.

Related: 5 Things Rock-star Managers Wish They'd Known Earlier

Your team members need to experience the natural high of accomplishing difficult tasks, tackling adversity, surviving awkward moments and adeptly navigating uncomfortable conversations. These obstacles are crucial to help individuals develop a strong sense of self. Here are four tips to avoid becoming a lawnmower leader.

1. Let your direct reports lead their own difficult conversations.

You can coach your employees behind closed doors, but don't undermine their power to address their own conflicts. (If there’s a truly egregious issue on the table, you may need to be present. But remember: You're the wise guide on the side, not the rescuer.) 

2. Set earlier deadlines.

Big meeting next Thursday? Don't request to see the presentation deck by end of business day on Wednesday. Set a firm deadline for Tuesday morning so your employee has time to make any and all necessary revisions.

3. Help them learn from their mistakes.

Rather than swooping in to solve a direct report's problem, coach him or her through a learning process. What led to this outcome? How will she or he respond now? What’s the next best step? What might he or she do differently if faced with a similar situation in the future?

4. Support them as they push through adversity.

At some point in life, everyone faces difficult moments or needs to initiate a challenging conversation. When you handle it for your employees, you're communicating an indirect message: They can’t handle it themselves. Boost their confidence through guidance, encouragement and sincere support. Then, let them leave the nest of your office and go master it for themselves.

Related: Top 150 Company Cultures in America of 2018

Brilliant leaders know that building trust within the team inherently leads to a more profitable, competitive and successful organization. It all starts by letting your employees know you believe in them and trust them to figure things out for themselves.

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