Are You a Helicopter Boss? How Micromanaging is Killing Your Practice

By Kristina Schneider, Practice Success Coach

helicopter bossYou may have heard of the term “helicopter parent”.  It’s a term used to describe that parenting style where they “hover overhead”, like helicopters, over everything that their child is doing, overseeing and trying to control and supervise all aspects of their lives.

This type of style can also be found in the workplace.

A helicopter boss, whether it’s the attorney business owner or perhaps an office manager or other person in some type of supervisory role over others, is someone whose management style is similar to this parenting style.  It’s someone who is trying to micromanage and “hover” over employees while they are working, trying to make sure that they are not making any mistakes, not breaking any rules, and not making any incorrect statements to clients.

The Best of Intentions Don’t Always Result in the Best Outcomes

Both helicopter parents and bosses have the best of intentions.  It comes from caring about the outcomes, wanting the best from the individual they’re hovering over (child or employee).  Unfortunately, the desired result from this kind of leadership style is not what is achieved.

Micromanaging employees and constantly developing a feeling of being watched or “policed” creates a fear-driven environment.  Employees become fearful of making a mistake, saying or doing the wrong thing, or getting in trouble (and possibly losing their job).  People might believe that this will make employees then make less mistakes, “care” more about how they’re doing their job, or not misbehave, but too often the opposite outcome is the result.

Here are just a few things that come out from micromanaging and over-policing of employees:

  • It creates a fear-driven culture in the firm
  • Employees do not feel empowered in their role and position as part of the team
  • Decreased productivity (and absenteeism)
  • Reduces morale in the office, which may create a very toxic and cancerous type of work environment for all (including clients!)
  • Burnout on the part of the micromanagers, having to oversee others and deal with the interpersonal conflicts that follow
  • High staff turnover, which then creates added stress of having to hire and train new hires

There is a Better Way to Manage Your Staff!

Micromanaging and creating a fear-driven leadership style is not the ideal way to set up your practice for all of the reasons noted above.  It often comes as the result of a lack of trust and a desire to control the outcome, but the effects of being lording over others will eventually leave you without any staff to lord over and you’re stuck doing the work (or managing an ever-revolving door of staff coming in and leaving!).

There is a better way to manage staff and still accomplish the outcome you wish to achieve, while maintaining a healthy, happy, and positive work environment.  Here are a few things that you can implement to shift this management style.

TIP #1: Hire the Right People for the Job.

First and foremost, making sure that you hire the right people for the job is key.  Too many times people are trying to fit jobs to people, rather than fitting people to jobs.  Be very clear about what duties are required of this position and hire people that have demonstrated skills that align with that job (or at least the ability and willingness to be trained and learn).  Hiring based on personality and attitude will go a long way in the hiring process!

TIP #2: Set and Communicate Goals and Expectations.

Be sure to set up very clear goals and expectations for this person and communicate those goals (in writing). This allows you some very clear guidelines to evaluate their work performance and gives them a very clear directive of what is expected of them and what they should be focused on.

TIP #3: Properly Train Them to Do Their Job.

This is one of the most commonly overlooked and neglected areas of practice management that we see happening.  Too often, the issue of training people is overlooked.  The excuse is often that there is “not enough time”, but then the time spent fixing mistakes, answering questions, and getting upset trying to put out fire drills because things fall through the cracks or aren’t done properly is never considered (and usually far greater!).  People don’t need to be micromanaged if there is proper training, along with appropriate resources (procedures manuals, training videos/recordings, etc.) that would provide people the necessary resources to know how to do their job and how to do it well (and the way you want it done!).

TIP #4: Develop a System for Checking In.

We are not telling you to stick your head in the sand and not have any idea what’s going on in your practice (which is also a leadership style that some may have!).  But here, supervision and monitoring of how employees are doing can still be done, but it can be best done through developing a system around how you communicate with staff.  It gives you, as well as your employees, the peace of mind that they will have the opportunity to get any questions answered, clarity on any assignments or priorities, and identify potential training needs.  Having checkpoints will also give the helicopter boss some peace of mind with an opportunity to have an update from the employee and to begin to develop a trusting working relationship.

TIP #5: Periodically Evaluate Work Performance (and Establish Goals and Expectations, Again!)

Last, but not least, you should be periodically evaluating work performance through performance reviews.  We typically recommend 30, 60 and 90-day performance reviews within the first 90 days that a new hire joins your team, but you should also have 2 other touchpoints throughout the year with all employees – – once at the beginning of the year (in January) and the other mid-year (in July).  This is an opportunity to address any performance issues, using the goals and expectations already (hopefully) communicated as the metric for measuring performance, recalibrate and set up and establish new goals and expectations moving forward.  It is also an opportunity to address other behavioral or performance issues (attitude, tardiness, absenteeism, etc.).  It will give you an appropriate time and place to address things versus feeling like you must constantly police everyone’s performance and behavior and begin to develop that toxic work environment that micromanaging and over-policing can create.

We Can Help!

If this is an issue in your practice, please know that you are not alone.  Managing people and this area of the practice is not something they teach in law school.  This is an area that we’re helping attorneys (and their staff) with on a daily basis through on-going coaching, as well as through our in-person attorney event called, “The Ultimate Level: REIMAGINEDTM”.  For more information about our event, as well as other resources that we have that might be helpful to you, please see below:


Kristina Schneider is a Practice Success Coach here at The Ultimate Estate Planner, Inc.  She graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from Pepperdine University in 2004 and was hired right out of college to work for the Law Firm of Kavesh, Minor & Otis, coordinating and facilitating Philip Kavesh’s “Missing Link” Boot Camps while also providing administrative support to Mr. Kavesh as his Executive Assistant for over seven years.  Through her direct hands-on experience in Mr. Kavesh’s law firm, Kristina has been able to assist numerous estate planning professionals through The Ultimate Estate Planner and, equally as important, many of their staff members, in the successful implementation of Ultimate Estate Planner’s products and systems. She is currently pursuing her MBA degree from Pepperdine University Grazadio Business School.  You can reach Kristina at (424) 247-9495 or by e-mail at

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