Helicopter Sales Managers Aren’t Any Better Than Helicopter Parents

One of the topics I talk about during my two-day workshops for sales managers is how they have to stop being helicopter managers — always hovering over their sales reps’ shoulders, ready to swoop in and save the day at the first sign of trouble.

That approach leads to ill-prepared sales reps, just as helicoptering parenting can lead to children who are unable to cope with the everyday challenges in life.

To illustrate the reason why helicopter managing is a bad idea, during the first morning of the workshop, I tell the story of a client I had who went on an exotic vacation for two weeks and warned her team that she wouldn’t be available during that time. When she got back, however, she heard a series of messages left over the course of three days from one of her reps. It went something like this:

Day 1: “Penny, this is Joe. We’ve got an URGENT crisis here. I need to speak to you right NOW! Here’s my phone number, cell number, home phone number, wife’s cell number. Call me right NOW!”

Day 1 (later): Joe leaves Penny another “urgent” message.

Day 2: Joe calls a third time. “Penny, we’re making some progress here, but I’d still like to talk to you.”

Day 3: The fourth message from Joe: “Ahhh, Penny, I think we’ve got it under control. Call me when you get back. Have a nice vacation.”

As I’m telling this story, I can see the skepticism in participants’ reactions. Sales managers are reluctant to believe that their team can get along without them!

That is, until Day 2.

By that time, the participants have started checking in with their teams… and they’re finding out that many of their reps can function quite well even without their constant presence.

“My team is doing fine without me!”

Just last week, for example, I was working in Toronto with a group of sales managers who had flown in from all over North America for a company meeting as well as attending my workshop. So they were away from their offices for about three days.

There was the usual skepticism about my tirade against helicopter managing on Day 1. Then, by Day 2 the managers are telling me, “Wow. My salespeople are doing so much more now that I’m gone. They’re actually applying some of the techniques that we were talking about during the first day … thinking through their problems and coming up with solutions!”

And just like that, these sales managers freed themselves of the need to be available to their team 24/7.

Letting Go of Your Helicopter Mindset

I know this isn’t an easy adjustment for many sales managers. There’s a core sense that many sales managers have evolved into a mindset of, “I am responsible for solving everybody’s problems.”

That turns them into helicopter managers, which is bad for their team. Reps learn to take their problems to their manager… instead of taking their problems and several solution options to the manager. The former keeps their skills stagnant. The latter helps reps grow and develop their skills.

Which path do you want for your team?


Kevin F. Davis shares practical solutions to the most challenging issues that frontline sales managers struggle with every day. Kevin blogs on methods for everything from leading, coaching, and managing priorities, to hiring, forecasting, and driving rep accountability. Kevin is the president of TopLine Leadership, Inc., and the author of the new book, “The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness.”Find his blogs and articles at TopLineLeadership.com/blog and kevinfdavis.com/blog