Don’t Feed The Monkeys! 3 Ways To Help People Solve Their Own Problems

This is a great metaphor for satisfying our own need to solve problems by making other people happy instead of providing good leadership. And there are SO many monkeys aren’t there — not just from the people we manage/lead, but from the outside world, all those little problems that would solve themselves through normal social dynamics if we didn’t meddle. I wonder if another part of this metaphor holds true — that we are distracting ourselves from bigger issues, just as we do when we go to the zoo and entertain ourselves by throwing popcorn at the chimps. It’s not good for the monkeys, and it’s not good for us.

A great leadership/management story about taking responsibility for what is not ours. In Aloha Leadership, based on traditional Hawaiian values, feeding the monkeys translates into meddling where our expertise and input are not needed. The result? Well, if we intervene, we have to take responsibility for whatever happens. Sometimes, feeding the monkeys doesn’t solve a problem, but makes a bigger mess, and then, by rights, the leader/manager gets to clean it up. This is a great reminder to think twice before “solving” other people’s problems.

Leading with Trust

Don't Feed the MonkeysIn my early days as a manager I used to love to feed monkeys.

“Monkeys” are the problems, issues, or challenges your employees bring you that somehow become your responsibility to manage and solve. Instead of the monkeys stopping by your office for a quick visit and going back home with their owners, they end up taking residence and you become responsible for their ongoing care.

I liked feeding monkeys because I thought I was helping people solve problems. Over time, I learned my good intentions were actually handicapping my employees from learning how to solve their own problems, resulting in me being overloaded with work.

There are three ways in which I developed that helped me stop feeding monkeys and I believe they can help you too.

1. Become a situational leader – There is no one best leadership style when it comes to managing people. People need different…

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