For example, imagine you have a fulfillment center. Early on, you needed to be heavily involved. Systems had to be put in place, roles had to be established, the kinks needed to be worked out of the process, deadlines had to be reliably met, etc.
But today, while there is still room for improvement (because there is always room for improvement), the team is hitting its operational metrics, and more importantly, customers are happy.
In that case, the right approach may be for you to step back, set a few reachable goals, challenge the team to meet those targets, and then let that team carry the day-to-day management load: Textbook delegation.
But what if one area of your business is engaged in working through a complicated task that is strategically important?
That's when you need to be a helicopter boss. That's when you need to be knee-deep in the details and helping your team work through the issues. Sometimes you need to delegate, other times you need to do the work yourself, but most importantly, you must lead.
Here's a great example. Recently at LogoMix, we decided to create a new website consulting/design services division. The group included a sales team as well as multiple other teams located in different time zones and from different operational areas (and with different operational goals and agendas.) Beyond the technical side of the business, our team doubled overnight.
Early on my involvement was critical. I needed to help figure out the business, but also to reduce any friction among the team members. (It's one thing to have a vision; it's another thing altogether to implement that vision, especially when blending functional areas is required.)
Once the consulting services division was working well and we were beyond creating it from scratch, once we entered the phase of "just" needing to scale our services and improve the products, then it was time for me to stop being a helicopter boss and get out of our talented team's way. Staying as heavily involved would have stifled their creativity, reduced their sense of ownership and responsibility, and take time I needed to spend on other strategically important issues.
So when should you be a helicopter boss?
When you're launching a company, being a helicopter boss is not just unavoidable - in fact, it's a requirement. You must set the course. You must create the culture. You must ensure that your ideas, your vision, your standards, and your dedication to serving your customers are all properly implemented.
Later on, you can, and should, pick and choose. Get heavily involved when a team is figuring something out for the first time, especially when that "something" is strategically important and involves multiple constituencies. That's when you can reduce the friction, provide the necessary leadership, and help talented people find the right answers to difficult problems.
Not necessarily your answers, though. The right answers.
Then determine when the time is right for you to back away and let the team take over.
Don't worry; you'll know.
Besides, when your company is growing, there will always be new areas where you should helicopter in.