Giving Back the Monkey
People don’t need to be managed; they need to be unleashed. ~ Richard Florida, Professor of Urban Theory

In 1974, William Oncken wrote one of the two bestselling articles in Harvard Business Review: “Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey?” The piece compares an employee’s dilemma to a monkey. When the manager takes on the problem-solving job, he’s got the monkey.

The article focused on improving time management through better delegation (i.e., giving back the monkey). It didn’t, however, cover how to get people to come up with their own insights.

“Command and control” management practices were common back then. In a 1999 commentary about the article, leadership guru Steven R. Covey wrote:

“…much has changed since Oncken’s radical recommendation. Command and control as a management philosophy is all but dead, and ‘empowerment’ is the word of the day in most organizations trying to thrive in global, intensely competitive markets. But command and control stubbornly remains a common practice.”

Empowering subordinates is hard and complicated work. You have to be willing to give up control and let people work through their own thinking. Empowerment means you must develop people—a strategy whose success depends on dialogue and trust.

The best way to develop people is through coaching conversations —by letting people do their own thinking. This is also the best use of a leader’s time and talents. A good leader acts as a guide rather than the all-knowing expert.

Here’s what I’ve found to be true in the people I coach: People want to learn and want advice, but more than anything they want an opportunity to come up with their own ideas. A truly efficient manager helps her staff think things through so they gain insight and make wiser choices.

Have you found this true for yourself?