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Don’t manage a zoo, stop taking people’s monkeys!

Many managers find themselves under enormous time pressure. Why? Too often it’s because they’re doing their job… and that of many others! It results from too readily taking on the problems of their team.

When one of your team brings you a business problem (and they come in many shapes and sizes as you know), visualise it as a monkey on the employee’s back. Listen to them, counsel them, guide them but make sure their monkey doesn’t end up on your back.

Whatever way you’re interacting with them, face-to-face, phone or email, ensure your people are looking after their own monkeys… that’s their job responsibility. When you don’t you’ll quickly find you have so many monkeys that you’re running a zoo!

Too many managers are running zoos because we have an inverted view as to how a business should operate. We fall into the trap of allowing problems to be passed upwards to management and think that it’s ‘normal’. It may be normal in your business but it’s in fact the complete opposite of how a business should function. In businesses that operate effectively, problems are passed downwards and handled by the lowest paid competent person.

If you as a manager think you’re the only one who can solve these problems, then frankly you haven’t done your job, which is to build a team, an entity, a business that can function without you.

When you act as your people’s problem solver you stifle their growth and development, and that of the organisation. You rob yourself of time and fail the team, the business and yourself.

But while you don’t want to become your people’s problem solver, effective leaders are definitely problem finders! This means being alert to issues and considering the implications when they’re raised: Is there a lack of communication, knowledge, opportunity, direction or inspection? Any problem could be indicative of a larger issue that may need to be addressed.

Being alert to problems obviously extends well beyond employees bringing them to you. That only accounts for the problems they recognise! To unearth those problems (read also opportunities) lying in the weeds, you must also proactively look for problem issues that indicate something is off track. And trust your instincts – they’re what helped get you where you are now.

By being a problem finder and giver you’ll surface issues and have your people dealing with their own monkeys much more quickly, and more effectively… before they become gorillas!