Brighton Leadership Group

Eradicating Monkeys

How often do you allow other people to put their “monkeys on your back?”
Monkey on Your Back = a phenomenon described by the late William Oncken, Jr., and Donald L. Wass in the 1974 HBR classic, “Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey?” They tell the engaging story of an overburdened manager who has unwittingly taken on all of his subordinates’ problems. If, for example, an employee has a problem and the manager says, “Let me think about that and get back to you,” the monkey has just leaped from the subordinate’s back to the manager’s.
Whether it’s a problem searching for a solution, an action that needs to be taken or a decision that must be made, someone else’s monkey only becomes your monkey when you agree to accept it.
Before you accept someone else’s monkey, ask yourself:

  • WHY – is this your problem?
  • WHAT – are you going to do about it and what will you be preventing that person from learning if you solve the problem, make the decision or take action on their behalf?
  • HOW – does this fit into your priorities and plans?

In today’s jam packed busy world, be wary of playing monkey tamer. We suggest deploying a monkey eradication strategy that empowers others to deal with their own monkeys.
Learning to shift a monkey back to its proper owner can be challenging but it’s how you prevent other people’s monkeys from jumping on your back!
Ask yourself “why, what and how” before you accept someone else’s monkey.

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