by Jane Anderson, Featured Contributor
“What is a helicopter parent?” This, I asked my friend who stared back at me in disbelief. To think I had raised 3 kids and was on round two with a grandson and I had never heard that term before! For those reading this who are as in the dark as I was just a few years ago, a helicopter parent hovers. Right! They are constantly looking to make sure their child gets attention at least equal to that of their peers, assure they get adequate play time on the field of their chosen sport, and helicopter parents protect their children from discomfort. Being a parent and grandparent, I know and you know, we want the best for our offspring, but being a helicopter parent is not the way to prepare young people for work or life. I, as a reader of this book have seen a few instances of what the author presents, but I work frequently with kids ages 2 to 12 and have admiration for the next generation of workers in the cue. I hope parents and millennials pick up a copy of this book and read it to learn how to live a REAL life as the author explains.
Joanie Connell, from her own expertise and research, wrote this book for young people and for the parents of young people, because she’s concerned that kids are growing up in a make believe world where they aren’t given enough opportunities to experience discomfort, responsibility, solve problems, be empowered, or communicate effectively. Joanie says, “[Today’s parents] are more coddling, more competitive, more anxious, and more frenetic than ever before. This affects how kids behave and cope as adults at work, at home, and in life.” She adds, “I know many people aren’t ready to hear this message, but I’m putting it out there anyway.”
Problems at work? Section One places emphasis on the workplace and is written primarily from the perspective of a manager, highlighting situations that cause frustration when generational lines are crossed in organizations and more specifically on teams. The first two chapters of the book lay out the groundwork for the possible solutions discussed in Section Two.
What is going on at work?
Research shows that the Millennial Generation, as compared to previous generations, lean toward working in groups, collaborating on projects, don’t mind pressure, change jobs frequently, have had more education, are technically skilled, expect to be trained on the job, are life-long learners, want to be the masters of their future, and are set on planning their own careers. Millennials now are motivated more by getting what they want on a personal level than generations preceding them who were motivated by advancement and money.
Twenty-somethings are already experiencing career burnout. Their expectations of what they’re achieving at work is no match for what is really happening at work. The issue is beyond the poor economy, the root cause is in impatience and dissatisfaction which results in job-hopping far too soon to gain any sort of familiarity with the job. Managers express concern that young employees are high maintenance and require more hand-holding and support than earlier generations. Joanie calls out other situational truths commonly found in the under 30 crowd. Lack of communication skills attributed to short chat and punctuated versions of sentences and paragraphs. Young, under 30s employees want the workplace has to be comfortable and even they admit entitlement is a major hot button. Millennials have no issue with quitting when they become bored.
What you need at work
This is a chapter in the book, not to glance over lightly. Included is a table that describes common success factors and indicators of how well a person is modeling competency in that area. Joanie then discusses determining job fit. Just because a person is competent, doesn’t automatically mean they are suited to the job itself. People, regardless of their generation are happier, more satisfied and more productive at work if they are in a job that fits them.
My favorite part of this chapter was the illustration of the things we encounter at work. Here are just a few: Tedious tasks, irritating problems, mistakes, insufficient resources, competition, ethical dilemmas, politics – and that is just a few that Joanie describes. Neither work nor life are fun all the time.
Here the author introduces REAL: It takes a lot to be successful in real life.
Resilient, Empowered, Authentic, Limber
The remaining sections of the book delve into five actions and details of how to make them a driving force to help you be R.E.A.L.
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1. Accept Imperfection
People who are not naturally driven will want to find shortcuts. These shortcuts show up in actions such as cheating, denial that a wrong was committed, obsessive perfectionism, lack of quality. In the end reputation matters. The authenticity a person presents is their reputation. They aren’t perfect, but they are honest about their limitations, their strengths and their weaknesses. Communication and collaboration are more likely to occur when individuals are allowed to be authentically themselves.
2. Build Resilience
Learning from mistakes builds resilience. Mistakes come in the variety package ranging from ‘stupid” to “honest”. When do you blame? Should you blame? If your organization has a learning culture, mistakes can be transformed into “learning moments”. This chapter is rich in content about how recovering from mistakes can build resilience and, let’s face it, enhance wisdom. Here are other factors of resilience: renewal, character, trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship.
3. Develop Independence
Our culture is taught to fear. In the interest of protecting our kids from all harm, they increasingly participate in supervised, structured, safe environments. As a parent/grandparent, I like the idea of supervised and safe, but Joanie points out that kids are rarely given the opportunity to explore, create, and figure things out for themselves. She discusses learned helplessness, dealing with discomfort, and probes deeply into building trust. This chapter covers the topic of trust and expands it into the avenue from independence to empowerment. She says “To be empowered is to be liberated. Liberating means letting go.”
4. Polish Communication Skills
We work on teams, we collaborate, we share information, we text, we connect through social media, we interact with people in the next room or across continents but we are not communicating because we are not focusing on the person on the opposite side of the conversation. Joanie says writing skills are plummeting and conversation skills are suffering too. Hyper-connectedness and multi-tasking are depleting our ability to communicate effectively. Some observations and where this book offers help is in boosting listening skills, being able to understand context of messages, and being centered for the best presentation and getting the message across. The author also discusses how trust is a huge factor in mutual communication. My favorite page in this chapter is the list of 10 behaviors to increase people’s trust in you.
5. Foster Creativity
This chapter begins with the question, “Why is creativity so important?” You can’t walk around the block without encountering the words creative or innovative. But creativity isn’t just a cool buzzword. Creativity is essential to that R.E.A.L. life – you know the one that’s bursting with all the symptoms we learned about back in Chapter 1. We need to be creative to solve problems, overcome mistakes, thrive on teams, persevere through boredom, dissolve barriers, deal with politics, and survive every nuance of workplace behavior.
Creativity is not crayons and construction paper. The word creativity, like the substance of its meaning is hard to define, but there are common principles. Creativity is flexible, unscheduled, unstructured, and cannot be confined or corralled. One thing we never think about when reviewing the list of how creativity is manifested, is that it sometimes starts out with failure. Creativity thinks outside the box, is flexible, unstructured, unconventional and prone to failure, which is why resilience is so important in REAL Life. Remember what it stands for:
R.E.A.L. – Resilient, Empowered, Authentic, Limber[/message]
So here’s the key to this book. Joanie B. Connell wrote Flying Without a Helicopter How to Prepare Young People for Work and Life, to “Help young people be better prepared for work and life – to help them be self-sufficient, productive members of our society – and to encourage parents to let go and count on kids to figure it out.
All through the book Joanie Connell gives her readers the opportunity to read, think about, and reflect on how what they just learned can be acted upon. The final section in the book is exercises to complement each chapter. My favorites pertain to Trust, Emotions, and Authenticity. I wonder what parts of the book would hold the most meaning for you.