If you’re always swamped with work, overwhelmed and exhausted, try looking over your shoulder to count the number of ‘monkeys on your back’. A term coined by time management guru William Oncken Jr, the proverbial ‘monkey-on-the-back’ is a syndrome that afflicts many team leaders and entrepreneurs. If you’re a people-pleaser or not exactly up to scratch on man-management, you’re likely taking on too much work from subordinates.
So the next time an employee approaches you with a problem and you’re about to say, ‘I’ll look into it’, you’re allowing the monkey to leap from his back onto yours. In other words, your employee is ‘reverse delegating’ and work is flowing in the wrong direction – yours! And if you’re in the habit of ‘taking on too much’, leaping monkeys will most definitely taking you down.
How to identify a leaping monkey
1. When you want to ‘rescue’ your employee and be the ‘nice guy’
2. When you don’t want to spend the time to guide your employee and find it simpler to just do it yourself.
3. When you want to show off your problem-solving skills
4. When you have control issues and don’t trust your staff to work things out
Why the beast drains resources
Reverse delegation will leave you exhausted while your employees always seem to be waiting for ‘approvals’ and memos from you while twiddling their thumbs. This is literally a drain on finances as your man hour is much more expensive than theirs. When deadlines are missed, fingers invariably point at you since you had agreed to take on the job.
In a start-up, the results can be especially disastrous. Employees never take the initiative, stretch themselves or learn new skills because they know they are not accountable. This can come in the way of scaling up and taking that next big leap – because your employees are simply not equipped for it.
Shooing the monkey away takes courage
Reverse delegation can make you a bottleneck in your own organisation. Senior American politician Donald Rumsfeld famously said, “If a matter is not a decision for you, delegate it. Force responsibility down and out. Find problem areas, add structure and delegate. The pressure is to do the reverse. Resist it.”
When an employee asks for help or seeks your opinion, a smart entrepreneur would dig a little deeper to assess the legitimacy of the request. Of course, you need to take into account the employee’s experience, track record, qualifications, skills and enormity and scope of the issue at hand. This will help you decide whether to entertain the request or tell the employee to brainstorm and solve it himself.
How not to play passing the buck
1. Resist the temptation to give readymade solutions and offers of assistance. Teach employees how to fish, don’t fish for them.
2. Ask the employee if he has tried to find a solution before coming to you.
3. Learn to say ‘no’. Look at requests for help as an opportunity for learning for your employees.
4. Suggest that employees first try to find solutions among their peers before approaching you.
5. Instead of taking on the task or parts of it, coach employees to implement the solution that you discussed.
6. Be prepared for mistakes and makes yourself available for any guidance they may need.
When you allow too many monkeys to roost on your back, you’re actually telling your staff that every little detail needs to be run by you first and that you do not trust them. It’s not long before they will be throwing monkeys at you. Alternatively, empowering your employees will help you set the work flow right – and put the monkey back where it belongs.
Mukti Shah is a Clinical Psychologist, Corporate Consultant and an accredited Entrepreneurial Motivation Trainer.
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