Giving the Monkey Back


Tap. Tap. Tap. Someone is knocking on your office door. You look up and welcome one of your best and most productive managers. You notice that she is carrying a monkey with her. It clings to her and it looks familiar. The monkey is slowly loosening its’ grip and beginning to reach for you as your employee tells you that she has a problem and is stuck. She wants you to fix the problem for her.

You like problem solving.

You tell the employee you will take care of the problem for her (or maybe you just tell her how to fix the problem), and you watch her walk out of your office. You think about how good it feels to help someone.

Wait a minute….you feel something clinging to you! That problem-monkey was handed to you, and you’ll be feeding and caring for it for some time. As days, weeks, and months go by, you notice that you are collecting, caring, and feeding for more and more monkeys as you help your staff to solve their work problems. You’re feeling burdened, heavy. You want some relief.

How do you spell relief?

Relief is on the way. Its spelled c-o-a-c-h-i-n-g. We sometimes think of coaching as something that we do in large chunks of time and only in discussions around our staff’s development. Yet, coaching can happen in small snippets when someone taps on your door, sends an email, or calls you for help. They are bringing that monkey to you, and they are anxious for you to adopt, feed and care for it.

When you see that monkey, instead of taking responsibility for it, hand it back by asking:

What ideas have you had so far that will solve this?

Have you asked others what they would do?

What action do you need to take?

How will you start? When will you start?

After these questions, now you can ask, “How can I help?” with the intention to remove barriers to success that your employees can’t remove themselves.

It will take a great deal of strength to keep from solving other’s problems; its been your habit for a long time, and you like it. But really, it’s not the best thing for you or for your staff.

The reason you give the monkey back

The best help that you can give your staff is by helping them to think through solutions and to eventually learn to solve them without you. And that takes some real courage, because we all like monkeys and we all like to help. But we don’t want them to cling and stay with us forever. So give the monkey back by helping others to solve their own problems. It will help your staff to grow, and it will provide you with some relief.


I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.

6 comments on “Giving the Monkey Back

  1. As humans our inclinations is to help another…. to step in and want to fix. But this post is a great reminder…especially for me….

    As a trainer and coach, I care deeply about my clients and I am passionately committed to the organizations that hire me. But I do have to remind myself….I am there for c.o.a.c.h.i.n.g. As you so brilliantly illustrated not to take on the monkey!

    A note to myself; I can care deeply and still not fix it… I can be committed passionately but not make it go away…. I have to do what I do best and that is…. Be the best coach I can be… because I know that is how we can best serve each other.

    Love love love this post.
    As always BRILLIANT and Powerful!

    Lolly Daskal
    Lead From Within

  2. Hi Lolly, I can say that I have always struggled with the issue of helping others by problem solving for them. The temptation is almost always ever-present. However, a shift in mindset and seeing what you see – that you can be passionate and committed to people AND help them to help themselves – is slowly, over the years, helping me to see how to best serve. Thanks for your wisdom.

  3. Over the years, I have made an impressive collection of monkeys… Then I realized that I was quickly running out of space. And that space was my sanity. There was no time to recuperate lost energy and soothe tired muscles. I was deteriorating fast.

    Then I remembered a class I attended years ago, boundaries. The gist was “Are you in control of your life? Do you let people take advantage of you? Do you have trouble saying no?” Immediately I got into action, and discovered my passion to coach others and bring out the best in them. And it all started with Twitter.

    This is a new frontier for me, but one I am looking forward to. A toast to C-O-A-C-H-I-N-G, and to “Giving the monkey back”!

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