Want to raise successful kids? Start by backing the (heck) off.
Just as sales skills are critical to success — the ability to explain the logic and benefits of a decision, to convince others that an idea makes sense, to help employees understand the benefits of a new process, etc. — so are leadership skills. Great teams, and great companies, are built by great leaders.
That’s why Google devoted considerable time identifying the key behaviors of its best team managers, research that allows the company to determine if someone is a great leader in less than five minutes.
So how can you help your kids learn to become leaders — and, by extension, help your employees learn to become better formal and informal leaders?
Yep: Back the (heck) off.
In a 2019 study published in Journal of Applied Psychology, researchers assessed the leadership potential of more than 1,500 teenagers: surveying peers, teachers, and parents to evaluate whether each individual was seen as a good leader. Determining which individuals actively participated in leadership roles. Measuring each individual’s level of self-esteem and confidence in taking on leadership roles.
And asking participants to agree or disagree with questions like “My parents often stepped in to solve life problems for me,” and “Growing up, my parents supervised my every move.”
You’ve already guessed the outcome: The researchers found that kids with overprotective parents were seen by other people to have less leadership potential and were less likely to actually be in leadership roles.
Correlation and causation were likely involved. Statistically, people with overprotective parents tend to have lower self-esteem and are less likely to seek leadership roles. Plus, people who are perceived as less confident and outgoing are also less likely to be chosen for leadership roles, even if they might have excelled in those roles.
Other research shows that teams tend to choose charismatic, confident, extroverted people as their leaders.
The result is a double whammy: Kids with overprotective parents are less likely to seek leadership roles, and their peers and teachers are less likely to select them for leadership roles.
Which means they don’t get the opportunity to learn how to be better leaders.
Great Parents — and Great Leaders — Don’t Fly Helicopters
You’ve heard of helicopter parents: people who are overly attentive, overly protective, and tend to do things for their kids rather than expecting their kids to tackle appropriate tasks and situations on their own.
As a result, those kids tend to develop fewer problem-solving skills — how can I learn to solve problems when I never get to try? — and it limits their sense of independence and autonomy.
And if I rarely feel trusted to take care of things — and myself — on my own, how will I ever feel capable of taking care of, and leading, other people?
The same is true for employees.
Step in whenever there’s a problem, and you limit your employees’ ability to apply their own skills and creativity. Micromanage, and you stifle your employees’ sense of responsibility, authority, and autonomy.
If your employees agree with statements like “My boss often steps in to solve problems for me,” and “My boss supervises my every move,” then you’re a helicopter boss.
Which means your employees will never get the chance to become the leaders they want to be.
And that you need them to be.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.