Are you disempowering your team by stealing their monkeys?

We’ve been talking a lot about monkeys these days, specifically, stealing monkeys, stuffing backpacks, and disempowerment.

For some leaders stealing monkeys is an occasional habit. For others it becomes a style that disempowers and sucks the life out of teams. Are you stealing monkeys? Time to check and shift, otherwise you could be destroying all your hard work to build adaptive and impactful teams. Here’s how.

A typical scenario: A team member comes to you with a challenge (the monkey). You listen but you are busy minded, in a rush, or an answer doesn’t come to mind, so you say, “let me think about it, get back to you, look into it, …”. And yes, it is an honest answer, but you just stole something. You stole the monkey, grabbed it, and put it into your already overflowing backpack. Maybe you feel like the hero, the rescuer, or the all-knowing expert who can save the day, but you are not! You are a thief my friend.

By taking their monkey you have now disempowered the other person. It is a selfish move. They are now at your mercy, your timeline, and your bottleneck capacity. Now they must wait for your response. Now they are responsible for something they no longer have control over. You took away their sense of ownership and an opportunity for them to solve the challenge and to experience pride in accomplishment.

Keep going with this pattern of stealing monkeys and you will build co-dependency with a hub and spoke type leadership. Yes, you are amazing, taking and managing monkeys with amazing dexterity. However, your time is so full you can only see the trees and you are possibly exhausted. Oh and by the way, your forest is about to be annihilated by a market shift or new technology that you cannot see because you are managing this gigantic backpack of monkeys. Yeah you.

So stop. Pause and breathe for 10 seconds. I promise you will recover 10 times the time you invest in a new pattern.

A New Pattern: When a question or a request comes to you as the leader or expert ask yourself, “How can I support and empower this person, and not steal their monkey?” Consider these possibilities:

  • Could they do more of the research or work so all you need to do is give feedback on a draft or final approval?
  • Can you provide your key criteria and empower them to determine a solution?
  • Even better, ask them what they think they should do or where they might find some answers.
  • Or simply, “good question, I don’t know / or just running onto a meeting, check in with Tom, Dick or Mary, and let me know your conclusion”

Levelling Up Your Leadership: Most important, take a few more minutes and zoom out and look at the bigger picture. How come they needed to come to you in the first place? Do information channels need to be opened? Does there need to be a more effective way to share, document, and source information? Are you holding information or bottle necking an approval process because you don’t have more effective or efficient means to manage the business? Do you not trust your team? Do you believe they are incompetent and only you can make the right decisions?

The Solution: If you wonder if you are stealing monkeys and how your team feels about it, I have a suggestion – ask them. Together as a team identify areas where you tend to take monkeys, create bottlenecks, and/or disempower them. Work together to build new systems and processes that will enable the team to solve problems. Free them up to manage the monkeys as a team and you will be amazed at the creativity and solutions they will develop. With your backpack unstuffed you can step out of the trees and connect with stakeholders, customers, the market, etc. to formulate and deliver more strategic insight and value. Now you can celebrate and raise up your amazing team and, instead of being their monkey handler, you are now their cheerleader. Yeah you!

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