Four Ways to Manage Monkeys

Chimpanzee looking mischievous

Four Ways to Manage Monkeys

Be honest – how many times has something like this happened to you? Your company is working on a big project and your team members have defined roles. One of your employees runs into a roadblock with an assignment and comes to you for help. “What should I do about this?” he asks. “Well let me give that some thought,” you say. And just then, the problem is no longer your employee’s – it’s yours.

Sometimes we spend too much time working on other people’s responsibilities to the detriment of our own. Often, it’s because something we’ve delegated to another person has jumped back onto our plate. We may have the best of intentions in wanting to help our employees with the obstacles they encounter at work. But when we’re too helpful, to the point of taking on their issues, we undermine our leverage and our leadership. Here are four ways to manage this classic problem of the monkey on your back.

#1 – Neutralize It. When an employee comes to you with an issue, ask what she needs. Don’t assume she’s looking for you to solve her problem. Listen. Be patient. Don’t jump in with your own solutions. Ask, “How can I best support you as you work through this?” She may just be looking for a confidence boost or a sounding board.

#2 – Ignore It. Some of us live and breathe problem solving. But does every problem really need to be solved? Before you start working to fix a situation, pause for a moment. Talk it over with your employee. Ask, “Is this a priority that we need to address or simply information that’s good to know?” Sometimes, ignoring a problem does make it go away.

#3 – Break it Down. When an employee turns to you for help with a problem that’s rightly his to resolve, don’t take the shortcut and solve it for him. It may seem practical to do that now, but in the long run it will reinforce the idea that it’s okay for people to come to you with their monkeys. Instead, help your employees by breaking it down into manageable steps, and in other ways, coaching them through problems.

#4 – Give it Back. In some situations, you won’t want to make contact with the monkey for even the length of time it takes to coach your employee. When this degree of firmness is called for, be clear and direct, while still giving support. For example, say, “This problem is for you to handle. I’m confident in your abilities. Let’s talk after you’ve dealt with it so that we can both learn from this.”

Effective management of monkeys is essential for creating a culture of accountability and working at your own highest and best use. If you ever find yourself running out of time, while your employees are running out of work, take a look around and see if there’s any monkey business going on.