#1 Cause of Death or Monkeys: A How-To

I recently trained many of our leaders on Monkey Management.

I’m convinced that this principle is the #1 cause of death in new leaders.

So … how do you recognize the problem & overcome it?  Let’s go through it.  Unless, of course, you don’t have the time 🙂

Take a minute to look at this To-Do List.  It’s not uncommon from many leaders’ lists.  It contains things that came up today (on the left) and things to do from yesterday and before on the right.  Normally, one’s list is spread out on Post-it Notes, 3×5 cards, Notepads, Computer To-Do lists, Calendars, and email In-boxes.

To-Do List

Do you see the MONKEYS?!  They’re all over the place!  Remember, ‘a monkey is whatever the next move is when 2 parties end a conversation.’  Whoever has the next move has the monkey.  If you have to respond to an email, memo, or voice mail, you have a monkey.  If you’ve agreed to do something for someone else (buy, research, analyze, look into, make, meet with, write, etc.) you have a monkey.  Unless you’re paranoid about attracting monkeys, you likely have A LOT of them …


Remember the Monkey Gospel Truths:

Procrastination vs Insubordination
Possible Insubordination = Getting work done

Hopefully the reasons why you must destroy monkeys from your plate before they destroy you are obvious.  But, in case you’re skeptical.  Let’s reason together …

  • If you are doing work others could/should be doing, then you are, by definition, NOT DOING work that only you can do.
  • Monkeys keep you from working on what Steven Covey illustrates so masterfully in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People as Quadrant III stuff (next slide below).  The Non-Urgent/Important quadrant of our to-do list.
  • Regardless of your motive, you are stunting your direct reports’ ability to grow and develop by doing things for them.  Stop it!  Let’s see if they can sore.  If they fail (which is practically guaranteed eventually), teach them and help them grow.
Monkeys laugh when they keep you from Quadrant III

Take your ‘Total Plate’ which, again, includes your to-do lists, post-it notes, voice mails, emails, projects, etc. and strike a line through everything that doesn’t ABSOLUTELY have to be done by only you.  Look at my list below and notice in the next 2 slides how I identify other people’s monkeys that landed on my back and how I returned them to their rightful owner.

What can you – AND ONLY YOU – do?
Kill the Monkeys before they kill you

Wow.  Compare my list now (below) to my original list.  FREEDOM!  Freedom to finally lead.  Freedom to run my operation instead of being run by it.  If you don’t take a stand against monkeys and commit to a discipline of spotting them before they land on your plate and deflecting them, you will NEVER get to quadrant III.  If you’re too busy for quadrant III then, SOONER OR LATER, you will fail.  You will get burned out.  You will be frustrated.  You will remain miles away from your potential.


One last thought about Monkeys.  They hate you.  They will only be happy when they not only destroy your professional life, but your personal life as well.  Talk about Non-Urgent/Important!?: date night with your spouse, being home for dinner with your kids/family, family vacation, personal fitness/health, reunions with friends, community/church service, etc.  All these things are, to a degree, sacrificed when we lack the discipline and understanding to treat monkeys as the enemy they are.  You could have all the talent, charisma, & smarts in the world.  But, none of that matters if you’re spending 75% of your time on monkeys others should be doing.

Remember …
Managers Do Things Right.  Leaders Do The Right Things.

Take Monkeys personally.  If they could, they would spit in your mother’s face.

3 thoughts on “#1 Cause of Death or Monkeys: A How-To

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