Several of you might have wondered why some people are natural leaders – delegating tasks or ordering people about effortlessly – whilst others are unsure, hesitant wrecks. This contrast is especially startling when you see two people or comparable ability who perform very differently in leadership roles. The author says that part of the answer to this puzzle lies in nature (genes) and part in nurture: “As with almost any aspect of human nature, some of the answer comes down to your genetically inherited disposition. If your parents were shrinking violets, the odds are increased that you will be too. But that’s far from the whole story. Increasingly, psychologists are realising the important part that early life experiences play. And key here is the way your parents behaved toward you.”
In turns out that overly protective parents can damage their child’s leadership abilities: “Colloquially, this parenting approach is known as ‘helicopter parenting’ in reference to the idea of hovering nearby whether needed or not.
Your parents likely had good intentions, such as ensuring you didn’t face uncomfortable challenges. Unfortunately this might have had some inadvertent, unhelpful effects, including “making you less confident and less capable of facing difficulties, therefore [leading you to] exhibit poorer leadership skills”, says Dr Judith Locke, a clinical psychologist in private practice and visiting fellow at Queensland University of Technology.”
So what exactly is “helicopter parenting”? According to Ms Locke, such parenting is characterised by three deadly traits (which we at Marcellus believe are found in most Indian households): “…this is an approach being extremely responsive to the child, being extremely undemanding in some contexts, yet being highly demanding in others. For instance, a helicopter parent is likely to be overprotective, overly attentive and believe their child is always right. They will try to do everything for their child (rather than expecting the child to handle it themselves), and might expect their child’s peers and school to bend over backwards to accommodate their child’s needs too. At the same time, this kind of parent will be highly demanding, in the sense of having high expectations for their child’s achievements, overscheduling their child’s time and wanting their child to be their friend and in constant contact.”
As with many cultural traits demonstrated by Indians, the Chinese too have their fair share of helicopter parents: “The latest research on how this extreme coddling can stifle leadership skills comes from China. Psychologists surveyed nearly 1,500 teenagers – average age 14 – at 13 schools in Beijing. Yufang Bian at Beijing Normal University and her colleagues assessed the teenagers’ leadership potential comprehensively. First they quizzed the teenagers’ peers, teachers and parents to get a sense of whether they were seen by others as being a good leader. Second, they checked whether the teenagers were actually in any leadership roles, such as being a team leader in a class science group or a president in a student club.
Meanwhile, the teenagers rated how much their parents had been overprotective by agreeing or disagreeing with statements such as ‘My parents supervised my every move growing up’ and ‘My parents often stepped in to solve life problems for me’. The teens also took quizzes measuring their self-esteem and how confident they felt about being a leader.
…Bian and her team found a clear pattern. The more overprotective their parents, the less the teens were perceived as having leadership potential by others, and the less likely they were to actually be in leadership roles. Statistically, this link was explained by the fact that the teens with helicopter parents tended to have lower self-esteem, which in turn was associated with being less confident about being a leader.”
In case you are now holding your head in your hands about what to do with you child, help is at hand from Ms Locke: “Locke, who is also the author of The Bonsai Child (a parenting book to help parents develop their child’s potential by not overparenting), recommends beginning to take more control over your own life, including being more financially independent if you can, and avoiding the temptation to call your parents each time you have a problem.”

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