We've all heard the term 'helicopter parenting' - which describes the way a mother or father hovers on the periphery, ready to dive in and rescue their progeny before any disaster can befall them. These overprotected, overpraised children may well be high achievers, attaining their academic potential at school, college and university, but en route, many of them have sidestepped all the important life lessons that can only be learned through personal failure. The result, more often than not, is a graduate with all the boxes ticked on paper, but in many cases missing the soft skills required to succeed and progress in modern organisations.
Now, as the business community struggles with the long-term outcomes of helicopter parenting, it's become clear that the ideology of wanting better for our own children than we had has come at a price. In our effort to keep our children close and protect them, ironically, we might have damaged their long-term career prospects.
In his recently published book, Don't Be A Wimp: Raising a Strong Leader, clinical psychologist, Dr Henry Svec, has a simple solution - parents should stop being their child's best friend and simply toughen up instead. He outlines practical behaviours to adopt, such as telling a child 'No' regularly, getting them into the habit of working at a young age, using discipline and teaching them to play to win. His methodology is a complete contrast to the helicopter parent's techniques, but when you consider that famous leaders and successful entrepreneurs often express how important this type of parenting style was in helping them develop into successful individuals, it gives pause for thought.
Richard Branson writes in a recent blog post about how his mother constantly challenged him to help overcome his shyness by pushing him out of his comfort zone. While he agrees that this was not particularly enjoyable at the time, he acknowledges the reasoning behind it. Similarly, Arianna Huffington, the co-founder of the Huffington Post, often cites her mother's adage "Failure is not the opposite of success, it's a stepping stone to success", as an empowering factor which helped her face adversity and strive for better. So it seems this short-term discomfort is worth it for the long-term pay-off.
Journalist and author of The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell reveals in his recent book, David and Goliath, that a third of US presidents lost their fathers early in life, suggesting that overcoming difficulties at a young age can build capability and ultimately forge the leadership skills needed to succeed. While I'm not advocating the unnecessary suffering of our children, parents need to allow their offspring the opportunity to figure things out for themselves, to rely on their own wits, to understand those huge feelings of loss, pain and disappointment and know that they can be overcome and utilised to build a better, stronger person.
Playing the long game
When it comes to getting on in the world of work, the Millennials are presenting business leaders with a quandary. They often exceed the grades needed to take on a job role, but the nuts and bolts skills have often been left undernourished and undeveloped. What strategies can we, as parents and business leaders, implement to ensure that our children (and the future workforce) grow and develop into level-headed, compassionate, resourceful human beings and leaders?
Much like parenting, leadership training is about playing the long game and it needs to begin in childhood, be nurtured through adolescence and continually revisited in adulthood. If we start training our young people to recognise the skills they already have and present the business case for developing new skills, they will undoubtedly flourish.
The first step is in helping them to discover what behaviours and competencies they need in order to progress; such things as critical thinking, team building, effective communication, emotional intelligence, punctuality, resourcefulness, organisation, social skills, interpersonal communication and adaptability. These are not inherent skills, they are learnt by assimilation, though life experience. Businesses need to ensure they are offering training that focuses on them. Developing an in-house mentoring and coaching strategy, for example, where experienced team members and managers work with new starters to help build up these skill sets, is one simple way that organisations can help Millennials, without a significant cost to the business.
It's time to return to the basics. We need to applaud genuine, well deserved success, not mediocrity. We have to allow our young people to acknowledge failure and see it as something that can be built upon. In short, we need to be less 'helicopter' in our approach to Millennials in all areas of their lives from parenting to managing. Instead, we need to allow our young people to become foot soldiers and grass roots leaders that can survive the rough and tumble of the evolving modern world of work.