Saturday, May 5, 2012

Do You Have A Monkey On Your Back?

Cover of "The One Minute Manager Meets th...
Cover of The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey
Thanks to my friend, Grant Case, for sharing a great book with me called, The One Minute Manager Meets The Monkey.  Written by Kenneth Blanchard, William Oncken, Jr. and Hal Burrows, it is a book that was written in 1989 but it is timeless advice for any type of manager.  While it was written for the business world, the whole time I was reading it, I kept thinking that the education world where I work could benefit from the advice found here too.  Interestingly enough someone else thought so as well, because as I was catching up on some blogs I follow I discovered this one:  Shifting the Monkey  Funny how good ideas get repeated....

Translating the message into my world would go something like this;  a teacher is approached by a student who tells the teacher about a problem. It could be anything from an interpersonal problem with another student to lost homework.  The teacher becomes involved in solving the problem, questioning students, searching for the lost item.  Soon not only the teacher but perhaps other students, other teachers are similarly involved in trying to solve the problem.  Teaching and learning in the classroom has come to a screeching halt.  Meanwhile what is the student with the problem doing?   At best, nothing... waiting for the powers that be to solve the problem. At worst, chatting with other students and stirring up the problem worse.  What is happening here?  The student has brought the problem (the monkey) to the teacher and securely screwed the monkey onto the teacher's back.  Now the teacher is the one responsible for solving the problem while the student waits and learns.... nothing.

Don't think that this just happens in schools.  Here's another scenario;  A child approaches Mom or Dad and tells them about a problem.  It might be a sibling problem, it might be an academic problem, it might be  problem with a teacher or coach.  The parent becomes involved in solving the problem, questioning brother or sister, finding and setting up tutors, buying a computer program for academic help, creating neighborhood play groups, what ever it takes.  Meanwhile what is the child doing who originally brought the problem to the parent doing?  At best, nothing... waiting for the parent to solve the problem.  At worst,  stirring up the problem and making it worse.  What is happening here?  The child has brought the problem (the monkey) to the parent and securely screwed the monkey onto the parent's back.  Now the parent is the one responsible for solving the problem while the child waits and learns... nothing.

What is the solution for this monkey problem?  Placing the problem back in the child's lap with some suggestions for figuring out a way to reconcile the problem, then having the child report back when he has some ideas about how to do that .  In short-making the child responsible for his own solutions while modeling Stephen Covey's first habit of highly successful people:  Be Proactive--Take responsibility.

Do you see applications for this approach to problem solving in your life?  Are there problems that have been dumped in your lap that someone else should be taking responsibility for?  Can you gently but firmly remove them from your back and return them to their rightful owners?  What would be the advantages for you?  For the monkey's true owner?


  1. Lynne, this is an amazingly helpful post and one that has come at the perfect time for me. Without going into much detail, my daughter's father is giving her a much undeserved hard time right now and driving her to depression and distraction. I want to help, but now I understand, she needs to see that monkey in her lap and has to make the very adult decision to let it go.
    Once again, I cannot get over God's timing to share the right ideas, here through you, that can help resolve a seemingly helpless situation.
    May He continue to bless you, my dear friend!

  2. @Martha--thanks for the comment. This is a lesson that I need to be reminded of often myself. As a self-proclaimed super problem-solver/helper aka counselor, it is too easy to take on other's problems as my own, solve them and then become frustrated that others don't take the necessary steps to follow up on the 'solution' themselves. To solve a problem someone has to OWN the problem. When we take over the problem we cheat them out of that role.

  3. I love how God works.. I read your Marvelous book which reminded me of The One minute manager Meets the Monkey. Then he puts the Monkey into Lynne's life in another way and on it Goes. Can I get an AMEN?????