Written By: Scott Peterson, Executive Director, Minnesota Valley YMCA in Burnsville
If you have ever been to the island of St. Kitts, you probably remember the monkeys. Island lore says the monkeys came with the French settlers in the early 1600’s as pets. When the French left the island several years later, they left the monkeys to go wild. The monkeys now outnumber the people on the island and have adapted to be pests to local farmers.
Some of the locals have taken advantage of the mild-mannered disposition of the mon-keys. As you walk into the central square from the ship port you will see a few of the locals walking around with 2-3 Green Vervet Monkeys on their shoulders. They are cute – complete with matching outfits in St. Kitts colors, a diaper, and willing to jump right on a stranger. The monkey wranglers quickly try to put them on your shoulders and offer to take your picture with them…and want a few dollars in exchange for the opportunity. It is a novelty, fun for a few minutes diversion, and inexpensive souvenir shot –but you don’t want to keep them too long. They can start to pick at you, climb where you don’t want them, and might end up costing you more than you want to pay with a pushy monkey wrangler.
Monkeys can have a similar effect on managers and leaders. You’ve experienced it.
- A member of your team approaches you with a problem and not sure how to handle it. You find it easier to take care of it your-self than coach them through it and now you have their monkey.
- A new project or task is assigned to your department. It should be passed on to one of your staff, but it is something you like to do. You keep it and now you have another monkey to manage.
- A staff member approaches you about a task. You tell him you will think about it and get back to him. Another monkey jumps on your back.
Limit the monkeys by taking three steps:
1. Keep them where they belong. Coach your team to success by asking open-ended questions when talking about issues. Ask them what they can do. Ask them to evaluate the options. Ask them when they would like to give you an update on the progress. By do-ing so, the monkey stays with someone else instead of landing on your shoulders.
2. Commit to developing people. Chances are that you grew in your skills and knowledge by taking on new and challenging projects that stretched you at the time. Your team needs the same opportunity. Pass that favorite task or project onto one of your team so it can become one their favorites. Provide details, be available for questions, but let them manage the monkey – even when it is favorite one that might not seem like a bother.
3. Recognize and delegate. Just as the uncontrolled monkeys on St. Kitts can cause problems, so can the unchecked monkeys with your team. They were just pets until no one was watching. Keep the monkey population low by assigning tasks to a person with a deadline and provide the needed opportunities to check in on their progress.
The monkeys you accept will cost you at some point. Be intentional about which ones stay with you and which ones stay with the rightful owner.