Is there a monkey on your back?

monkeyThere’s a polish proverb, Nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpyLiterally translated, you get, Not my circus, not my monkeys. Basically, “not my problem.”

Over the holiday break I read the quick read by Todd Whitaker, Shifting the Monkey: The Art of Protecting Good People from Liars, Criers and other Slackers At first the title may seem a little jarring, but it actually has several valuable nuggets for all school leaders.

We all deal with monkeys. Whitaker describes a monkey as, “the responsibilities, obligations, and problems everyone deals with every day. You can easily handle your share of normal monkeys, but you can just as easily become overwhelmed when you get stuck shouldering other people’s inappropriate monkeys.” The challenge comes when people within the organization try to pass off their monkeys to other people who they know will solve the problem and do the work for them. Dealing those who like to pass their monkeys is a leadership challenge! Leaders actually do a disservice when they allow the non-slackers to take on the problems of the slackers because it robs the slacker of the opportunity to develop and demonstrate leadership within their particular role. Allowing the passing of monkeys reinforces a leader/follower culture rather than a leader/leader culture.

So how do you know when someone is trying to pass a monkey? Whitaker suggests leaders must always be asking themselves 3 questions:

  1. Where is the monkey?
  2. Where should the monkey be?
  3. How do I shift the monkey to its proper place?

And what can leaders do when one of the liars, criers and/or slackers is trying to pass the monkey? Whitaker, again, suggests three things:

  1. Treat everyone well.
  2. Make decisions based on your best people.
  3. Protect your good people first.

In the book, Whitaker details numerous scenarios, but following these three suggestions will place the responsibility for the monkey back where it belongs. As a leader, if you are intrigued by this idea of the slackers passing monkeys, be sure to check out Whitaker’s book! I found it very thought provoking. Reading it has provided me with a new lens through which to inquire into my world.

As leaders, we want to serve the people we lead. But a disposition to take on every monkey of the organization will overwhelm us. How can leaders still be servants and make sure the monkeys stay where they belong?


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