The scene may be a familiar one. You are in the middle of a busy but productive day. Things are going well; there's a lot to do but you are getting a lot done. You've decided to take a short coffee break, using the opportunity to recharge your batteries and get into the zone for the next task. As you head for the coffee machine a colleague dashes past. You could feel the tingle of hyperactivity buzzing off of them as they came done the corridor towards you, an armful of papers, tablet and bag all adding to the sense of someone with a million and one things on. A second or two after they've passed you hear your name being called, and turn to find that colleague closer than you expected and looking earnestly into your eyes. They've got a bit of a problem, it's causing all sorts of other problems, they can't think what to do, they don't have the time, can you help? Before you know what you've done you've been sucked into the quagmire! You asked what the issues are, told them that of course you would help and then you hear them say the fateful phrase, That's such a relief to know that you're handling it! I'll leave it with you then. And theyre off down the corridor. Congratulations! You are now the proud owner of someone else's monkey!
In his excellent, insightful read, 'The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey', Ken Blanchard explains why good, well-meaning, competent people like you need to stop taking on other people's monkeys. The reasons why you do take them are often these: it will be quicker to do it myself; they can't cope and it's my role to support them; I just can't say no, etc, etc. Most of that is a disguised form of self-flattery because it's saying I'm so significant that the place can't function without me. The consequence of taking the monkey is that you become less effective and your colleague learns that they can pass the challenge onto you rather than deal with it themselves.
In his book Blanchard provides a series of easy to understand strategies that keeps the monkey with its rightful owner. They are easy to understand but can be difficult to follow unless you have a strong moral compass directing your actions. So, why should you make sure that the monkey stays with its rightful owner? It all comes down to developing people. Monkey adoption undermines the ambition to establish a professional environment where coaching and collaboration are the key strategies for growing capacity. As a leader you are supporting that ambition every time you use open, coaching questions to enable a colleague to deal effectively with an issue. So, take a deep breath and hang out the sign that says the monkey adoption agency is closed for business.
To find out more about how a coaching culture can be embedded in your setting go to Trust Me Coaching.