Home > Challenges, Leadership, Management > Get those monkeys off your back!

Get those monkeys off your back!

“As he spoke I saw the monkeys coming towards me.  As they climbed up on my shoulders I peeled them off one by one and passed them on.  In the past I wouldn’t even have seen them coming!”  What a brilliant metaphor for learning to delegate!  This is what one of my coachees told me recently.  For years she had happily accepted every meeting invitation, volunteered for every action point until she realised she really could not carry on taking responsibility for other people’s ‘monkeys’* and that she had to delegate if she was not going to collapse under their weight.

So how did she do it?  A change in her beliefs.  In my opinion the real key to delegation – top tips and guidance are all very well but unless you examine your beliefs and assumptions about taking responsibility and delegating you will never do it successfully and feel comfortable about it.

She realised that she did not have to accept every invitation that came her way – that it was OK not to always be a ‘dog’ ie an enthusiastic puppy eternally bounding excitedly on to every bone thrown to her.  And in doing so she was actually giving others the opportunity to shine and learn new skills.  It was not being lazy and irresponsible to pass things on.  Now she orchestrates and delegates rather than running herself ragged doing everything herself.

So what unhelpful beliefs or assumptions do YOU have that are stopping you delegating?  Might it beDelegation

  • “I don’t have time.  By the time I’ve explained it I may as well do it myself”
  • “It won’t get done properly/on time”
  • “It’s my responsibility”
  • “I’ll look as if I’m shirking if I don’t do it.  People will think I’m lazy”
  • “I need to do it myself to show the team I’m supporting them”

Develop some more helpful ones instead:

  • “Actually this is what management is all about”
  • “It may take longer in the short term but it’ll save me time in the long run”
  • “This will develop some useful skills and experience in the team”
  • “It’ll really motivate Joe if I make him responsible for this”
  • “My job is to help the team by seeing the bigger picture and sorting things out properly, not continually firefighting”

Then you can use those helpful hints and tips to actually do it!  And remember you ARE still ultimately responsible – another  manager I worked with knew one of her team was not doing what she should have been, did not do anything about it,  and cost them both their jobs.

What’s been the successful ingredient for your delegation – or what’s stopping you?

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* Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey? by William Oncken Jr and Donald L Wass (1974)  Harvard Business Review

Photo: © Meddy Popcorn – Fotolia.com

  1. Martin Baldwin
    November 4, 2011 at 09:40

    Really love the picture of the monkeys! Yes a lesson well learned and thankfully I am learning and have been over the past few years. It makes for a much more enjoyable work and personal life. Thanks Caroline for inspiring, sharing and encouraging yet again. You’re a star!

    • November 4, 2011 at 10:13

      Thank you Martin – really appreciate your comments and, as you say, this can impact the whole of your life, not just work. And applies whether you’re employed or self employed.

  2. Karen Mitchell
    November 6, 2011 at 07:45

    Caroline yet another inspirational article…. loved the graphics too. So often I know I should be delegating, yet I get caught up in the doing. Your article was a great reminder. Maybe a little sticky note on our desks saying “It may take longer in the short term but it’ll save me time in the long run” might be mine and many others answers so the reminder is there when you need it”! Keep on writing Caroline, always good to read your articles. Karen

    • November 6, 2011 at 11:04

      Brilliant idea Karen, something simple like that can really keep you on track. And thanks so much for your appreciation, I’m really delighted you’re getting so much from my blog. Do pass it on!

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