“Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey?” is a 1974 Harvard Business Review article that’s become widely cited and reprinted. The authors, William Oncken, Jr.and Donald L. Wass use the metaphor of a problem or issue being like a monkey on someone’s back. This excerpt outlines a leadership trap that’s still ensnaring many managers over 40 years later:
“Subordinate-imposed time begins the moment a monkey successfully leaps from the back of a subordinate to the back of his or her superior and does not end until the monkey is returned to its proper owner for care and feeding. In accepting the monkey, the manager has voluntarily assumed a position subordinate to his subordinate. That is, he has allowed Jones to make him her subordinate by doing two things a subordinate is generally expected to do for a boss — the manager has accepted a responsibility from his subordinate, and the manager has promised her a progress report.
The subordinate, to make sure the manager does not miss this point, will later stick her head in the manager’s office and cheerily query, “How’s it coming?” (This is called supervision.)”
In a coaching presentation I addressed this common leadership problem with a look at how to reverse this “upward delegation” cycle. Click on Creating Empowerment and Growth to view a 3 minute video excerpt addressing this issue. I also use the Leadership Continuum to distinguish between Laissez-faire, Collaborative, and Autocratic leadership styles and when each one is appropriate.
Strengthen coaching skills so you can stop monkeying around!