Bob, one of your direct reports, comes into your office, obviously stressed. “The client just found another glitch in the software. They’re threatening to cancel the work.”

People come to you with problems on a daily basis. It might be tempting to swoop in with the right answer or to take on their issue as your own.

Instead of rescuing, ask “Do you need me to: 1) Listen; 2) Give advice; or 3) Get involved”? This helps to clarify who owns the monkey that is currently residing on your direct report’s back.

Delegation can be thought of as a monkey containment – coaching people to make sure that the primate stays with its rightful owner. It’s your job as a leader to make sure that people are equipped to deal with today’s and tomorrow’s problems/primates that are inevitable. If a direct report regularly brings you issues that she should be able to handle solo, you need to clarify roles, increase skills or address confidence issues.

Depending on the nature of the challenge, you might need to share the monkey, however be sure to clarify specifically what you’ll do and what the other person will do. Remember that you have your own pesky primates to deal with, and the ones that require your unique abilities are your first priority.

No monkeys were harmed in the writing of this post.

We love helping people zero in on the right work (and monkeys).

Photo from iStockphoto.