Delegation Dilemma: Are You Trapped and Overrun by Monkeys

The senior and middle managers frustrated the General Manager of a large organization. She felt managers weren’t using their time effectively. “Many of them are managing a level or two below their position. They’re trapped in micromanaging daily details. They need to be more strategic with their time and learn to delegate.” She wanted delegation skills to be part of the leadership development workshops we were designing for their organization.

Delegation is one tip of the leadership iceberg. There is a skill set with dos and don’ts for effective delegation. But as we assessed the organization’s culture and leadership practices, we found — as is often the case — lack of delegation went much deeper. Micromanagement came from low levels of trust in the delegatee’s effectiveness. This often reflects the manager’s failure to provide effective coaching and poor “monkey management.”

Imagine a team member coming to their manager with a little monkey. “Hey, boss. We’ve got a problem,” as the team member hands (delegates) the monkey to their manager. Less effective managers will say, “Ok. Let me look into that/take that and get back to you” as he or she takes the monkey and puts it on their back with all the other screaming primates. A more effective leader-coach will say, “Eewwww, that’s an ugly little monkey you have there! How can I help you manage that monkey?”

An element of monkey management and delegation is coaching that creates empowerment and growth. Delegation without enablement is abdication. Delegatees often need to be guided and developed so they can confidently deal with and manage monkeys on their own.

This guidance moves delegation beyond empowerment to “empartnerment.” Traditional delegation is often hierarchical with the leader dishing out power as each monkey comes screeching into sight. Partnering creates an environment where team members deal with many issues on their own and only bring the biggest, unruliest monkeys to the manager.

In conjunction with coaching skill development, it turned out that the organization’s managers also needed to use their time more strategically. They were falling into many of these deadly time traps:

  • Highly reactive and crazy busy
  • The Acceleration Trap
  • Low culture/capacity development
  • Poor monkey management
  • No time for coaching skill development
  • Working in Versus on Your Team
  • Falling down the meeting sinkhole

Take our Strategic Use of Time Assessment if you’d like to see how you’re doing.

Often called “the father of modern management,” Peter Drucker wrote in his landmark book, The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done,” As usually presented, delegation makes little sense. If it means that somebody else ought to do part of ‘my work,’ it is wrong. One is paid for doing one’s own work. And if it implies, as the usual sermon does, that the laziest manager is the best manager, it is not only nonsense; it is immoral.” He never did put lipstick on a monkey.

The most productive managers aren’t lazy. They proactively build team capacity to share monkey management and make the best strategic use of their time.