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.
Love this post! I work with students in a management program and “Whose Monkey is It” is one of my favorite lessons (along with “Listen to Your Skunks”, how difficult people often have a perspective we should consider).
I’ve noticed this shift in recent years that indicates we’re often too willing to let multiple monkeys reside on our backs…I call it “proudly wearing the Busy Badge”. You know what it sounds like: “How are you doing?” “I’m soooo busy” I call that simply being unable to manage your time and tasks (coupled with an unwillingness to delegate–assuming you have someone to delegate to!).
Recently I’ve been working with strengths-based assessments and I like coming at work (actually, coming at life) using that approach. Why should I spend time on tasks that are difficult or uninteresting to me when I work with someone who actually loves doing that kind of work?
Unfortunately, organizational structures often dictate who can do what, rather than asking “who does what best” and then assigning work based on individual’s strengths and interests, rather than a job description.
I often think of the workplace as a zoo, and today’s “monkey” story fits right in!