This article was originally published on Medium.
Young people who are hitting the workforce receive plenty of criticism these days — whether it’s for their insatiable thirst for feedback, stubborn reluctance to “put in their dues,” or short-lived stints at companies. But what’s curbing their career success more than anything is a lack of independence.
As the business community grapples with the long-term outcomes of the first generation raised by “helicopter parents,” the concept of wanting better for our children has finally reached the point of diminishing returns.
The Harmful Effects of Hovering Parents
You can thank helicopter parenting for the high unemployment rate of today’s young adults. Why? Helicopter parents often attempt to engineer a picturesque life for their children by fighting their battles for them — no matter the consequences. For instance, a chief judge in Vancouver recently ordered a mother to stop contacting her son’s hockey coaches and NHL officials after she had sent them hundreds of emails.
As parents hover, their kids bypass important life lessons that can only be learned through personal failure. As a result, many Millennials lack the skills and attitudes that companies often look for, including critical thinking, creativity, and resilience in the face of change.
According to bestselling author Gina Mollicone-Long, much like a baby learning to walk, progress in all stages of life comes from trial and error. Children who aren’t given the autonomy to make decisions on their own grow up to be adults who become easily frustrated and often depressed by conflict.
In fact, a study conducted by the Journal of Child and Family Studies found that young adults with helicopter parents reported higher levels of depression than individuals from other households.
Where Business Leadership and Parenting Collide
Having been part of several leadership training events over the past few years, I’ve come to realize that the principles of helicopter parenting are the exact opposite of what we’re teaching business leaders in terms of how to mentor employees. Parents could learn a thing or two from business leadership training and executive coaching — and our future workforce depends on a quick reversal of modern parenting habits.
Here are four business lessons that apply to smart parenting:
1. Let them figure it out. Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx and America’s youngest self-made female billionaire, attributes her success to her comfort with failure. Growing up, her father would ask her what she had failed at every week. As a result, she wasn’t afraid to fail.
Unfortunately, not many parents adhere to this principle these days, but the ability to figure things out in tough situations is a core value that businesses look for in new hires. Parents need to let their kids experience disappointment so that they can learn what it’s like to overcome and learn from failure. Prolonging pain and failure usually just leads to a bigger disappointment later.
2. Groom a successor. In the same way that business leaders should always be looking for their replacement, it was once a common practice for family businesses and farms to groom a successor. This framework of entrusting responsibility to children encourages them to make decisions on their own.
When business leaders assume all the responsibility, they quickly see the results of their actions and either burn out from the unsustainable workload or make necessary changes in their leadership style. Helicopter parents, however, may not see the ramifications of taking on too much responsibility until after their kids leave the home.
With their children’s long-term success in mind, parents should communicate their vision and values to their children, allowing them to make decisions and experience the consequences — positive and negative — of their choices.
3. Play to their strengths. Great business leaders learn how to identify and play to people’s strengths — often by using personality tests to learn about their team members’ natural tendencies. Similarly, parents should identify and support their children’s strengths.
At a bar mitzvah I recently attended, a sports-crazed father spoke about how he had always looked forward to his son playing sports. However, his son had very little natural inclination toward sports and, instead, loved theater, so the father learned to appreciate his son’s gift for acting. He told the crowd that when he watches his son in a starring role, it’s just like he hit the game-winning home run.
4. Motivate intrinsically. Two years ago, I was horrified to learn that my daughter’s school was handing out honorable mention awards to every child during an “invention convention.” Handing out consolation prizes to everyone sets kids up for failure down the line because it creates an association between exerting minimal effort and achieving success.
Not only is extrinsic motivation excessive, but it’s also ineffective in the long term. Daniel Pink, author of “Drive,” points out that for mechanical tasks, extrinsic rewards work well as motivators, but when tasks are conceptual and creative, extrinsic rewards negatively impact performance.
Leaders want people who are driven by the vision and purpose of the company, not their latest bonus. By leveraging intrinsic motivation, parents can raise kids who are committed to a purpose and driven by curiosity and the desire to contribute and succeed.
As a father, I know that it’s natural to want to make things easier for our children than they were for us. But in his latest book, “David and Goliath,” Malcolm Gladwell points to the counterintuitive success of people who face hardships early on, citing that almost one-third of U.S. presidents lost their fathers early in life. It’s hard to see that our kids’ difficulties can actually become their greatest gains. But to groom the next generation of capable business leaders, we’ll need to encourage more skinned knees and fewer unnecessary Band-Aids.