Gary Winters

Coach  Workshop Facilitator Author

Who’s Got the Monkey?

Let’s suppose you’ve assigned Bill and Abby to lead a special implementation team on an important project. You choose Bill for his interpersonal skills, which will be critical for the project’s success as the team interfaces with and needs support from other departments, and Abby for her technical skills, which is her strength and where she clearly shines.

A short time later, both Bill and Abby have requested time with you to talk about some problems they’re having with the project. Each has strong opinions of how the work should go forward, but they do not agree with one another, and they cannot come to agreement. They each want you to decide how they should proceed.

Which of the following options would you choose to resolve the standoff?

Option A: You could listen to both of them independently, choose the better plan based on your experience, and tell them to proceed with that plan.

Option B: You could listen to both of them independently, and create your own plan for them to follow.

Option C: You could listen to both of them together, choose the better plan based on your experience, and tell them to proceed with that plan.

Option D: You could listen to both of them together, and create your own plan for them to follow.

I would argue for “none of the above.” Here’s why:

When you assign responsibility to a team member, you pass the “monkey” of getting it done to that person. If they get stuck, they may attempt to return the monkey by asking you what they should do. If you aren’t careful, you’ll accept the monkey and take on what is essentially their job (since you delegated it to them).

“Management work” is getting results through others – not doing it for them when they’re faced with an obstacle. If you resolve this issue using any of the options presented above, you might feel better about moving the project forward, but you will have taught Bill and Abby that they do not need to figure it out for themselves – whenever they’re stuck, they can rely on you to save the day.

That’s not doing management work, that’s doing “vocational work,” and what’s more, you’re actually stunting Bill and Abby’s professional growth.

The best choice for you, it seems to me, is to bring them both into your office, and keep the monkey where it belongs – on their shoulders. You should let them know that you’re not going to make this decision – they are – and that you have confidence that they will make the best decision. You can offer to help them sort it out and make sure they’re really listening to one another, but you’re not going to make the final decision.

After all, you put them in charge of the project – an expression of your confidence in their competence.

Bill and Abby may resist. They may complain (either publicly or privately) that you’re ducking your responsibility. They will be feeling the heat because they were unable to put their monkey up for adoption. But if they’re as competent as you believed them to be when you gave them the assignment, they will find a path forward. And, they will have greater ownership of that plan, because they created it rather than having it handed down from you.

Be careful not to accept the monkeys that belong to your staff. It’s seductive because you can feel wise, powerful, caring and important when you solve their problems. But it’s a short-sighted strategy that will consume your time, stall the growth of your staff, and lead to dependency-based relationships.

And next time, put one person in charge of a project. It’s cleaner that way.

For more information, read Managing Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey, by William Oncken.

“What ELSE Your Boss Never Told You” is the sequel to the very popular “What Your Boss Never Told You.” Packed inside are more tips, techniques, and insights about the challenging, but rewarding leadership position.

“What ELSE Your Boss Never Told You” is written in a conversational tone, as though you and the author were enjoying a cup of coffee and talking about the issues that emerge for new leaders. It stands alone, and/or could be read before or after the first volume, “What Your Boss Never Told You.” You can start with any chapter and read in any order you like.

if you search for a book on management, you’ll find a staggering 600,000+ books currently available. How can you narrow that down? “What Your Boss Never Told You” is the best place to start.

No textbook here – this book is short and sweet. It’s designed to help you “unpack” your new job and be effective from the first day with your new team. It contains twenty-one chapters filled with the wisdom Winters has gathered from real managers – effective, successful leaders in organizations much like yours.

Leaders make decisions every day – big and small. Most know that if they include others in the decision-making process, the quality of those decisions – and the commitment to them – will likely improve. That said, they also know it’s impractical, if not impossible, to include others in every decision they confront.

“To Do or Not To Do” tackles the question of when to make decisions on your own, and when to involve your team. It gives you a deceptively simple but proven method to determine, when you are facing a difficult decision, how to decide how to decide.

Far too many meetings are dreadful, mind-numbing, energy-draining, productivity-sapping, colossal wastes of time. As someone once said, “To kill time, a meeting is the perfect weapon.”

Here’s the deal: if you’re willing to learn and apply the techniques in “So, How Was Your Meeting?”, you’ll call fewer meetings, while vastly improving the ones you do lead. They’ll take less time, have more balanced participation, produce better decisions, and result in concrete action items for follow-up afterwards.

While there are thousands of books written for people about to retire, this may be the only book for people who manage soon-to-retire employees. Written in a casual, conversational style, “Managing the Soon To Retire Employee” will give you everything you need to know to move forward with confidence and grace.

You can be successful with Sooners. It won’t happen by chance, and it’s not a matter of pulling some management “trick” out of your hat. But you can learn how to do it, and you can apply what you’ve learned right away.

Managing friends or former peers can be awkward. When you become the boss, everything about these relationships can suddenly be uncomfortable. There’s a new set of ground rules to establish – as manager, you are going be accountable for the work performance of friends or former co-workers on the team, and they are going to have to adjust to the fact that they now report to you. Everyone involved can feel awkward and hesitant about the future. 

Have you been approached by management with an offer to promote you to supervision? Or, are you mulling over the possibility for the future? Find yourself not sure whether to accept the promotion?

If so, you’ve come to the right place. Help! They Want to Make ME a Supervisor will help you sort out a very big question: Should you accept the offer to become a supervisor? Once you’ve read this book, you’ll be confident that you’ve made the best decision for you and for your organization.