How to Build Up and Support vs Steal Monkeys

Premierehire Executive search and leadership strategies

How to best support and grow those you lead using simple inquiry and avoid stealing their monkeys.


Next time an employee asks for help, you may find yourself walking a tightrope between micromanaging and under-leading. You want to provide enough guidance without doing the work for them, but you also want your direct report to take ownership of their plan.

This is their opportunity to grow and gain confidence but if you direct too much you are doing what I call, “stealing their monkeys”. “Monkeys” are anything you do not yet have mastery of, which can create anxiety because of the unknowns and uncertainty but, at the same time, can also provide us excitement, novelty, and a challenge.

To strike a balance between directing (stealing monkeys) and failing to provide sufficient guidance, it’s important to ask effective questions. Here are some questions you can ask to help your employee come up with their own next steps while still receiving your support. The acronym to help with recall is SPROCIT.

the Specific? “Can you tell me more about what you’re planning to do next?” “Where will this take you?” “What is the desired state?”

the Positive? “What’s been working well for you so far in this process?” “Where have you had similar success?”

the Resourceful? “What additional resources or support do you need to move forward?”

the Obstacle? What are some concerns, fears or potential roadblocks that you need to address so you can move forward?

the Collaborative? “Who else do you need to talk to or work with to achieve your goal?”

the Integrated? “Who will this impact? What stakeholders need to be engaged?”

the Tracking? “How will you measure your progress?” “How would you like to check in and report?”

Your employee may not find these questions easy or quick to answer, so give them space, don’t jump in, and be confident in their capacity. Your questions are instrumental in helping them take ownership of their plan and to help them build the framework and scope.

In the long run, you are supporting them to discover their capability, work through anxieties or apprehensions, and learn what to consider. As you ask questions, visualize them reaching their summit under their own plan and celebrating, so you are not tempted to take this away from them.

If you sense that your employee needs more direction, offer to work through the questions together or assign a more experienced peer to mentor them. Just make sure this peer also understands the value of supporting through inquiry and not taking over and stealing their monkeys.

Using supportive inquiry, which is the art of coaching, is a critical leadership skill necessary to grow people and leaders of teams. Below are some recommended reading related to this topic:

1. Humble Inquiry, Second Edition: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling (The Humble Leadership Series)

2. Change your questions, Change your life (4th edition) by Marilee Adams

3. Unleashed: The Unapologetic Leader’s Guide to Empowering Everyone Around You

The Author

Leanne Abraham helps leaders and teams reach higher levels of performance and fulfillment in their work.

Leanne serves as an executive & team coach, facilitator, leadership trainer, and talent advisor. Her coaching, tools, and proven processes elevate organizational health, growth, and transformation to attract great people and build great places to work because ‘people are the point’.

She and her team also help organizations find and retain top people with their 4 Phase Executive Search and New Leader Integration Solutions.

Leanne has over 25 years of executive leadership experience and is a certified executive and team coach (EMCC). She is a certified coach for Birkman Leadership and Career Assessments and has extensive training with the Adizes Institute for Organizational Transformation, Robbins Madanes Intervention coaching, the European Mentoring & Coaching Council (EMCC), and the Global Team Coaching Institute (GTCI). She also has a degree in Psychology and a Masters in Business from UBC.

Leanne serves clients throughout the US and Canada, ranging in size and industry.

If you are looking to elevate your team, your leadership, or your career, please send an email or book a complimentary consult.

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