When I was a retail manager, I think I was a good manager. The measure of how good I was (I believed) was that people used to come to me with their problems, and I always prided myself on helping them.
I felt good, they got their problem solved. What a lovely way to work!
What I soon found was, everyday my team would come to me with what I described as ‘a monkey on their back’ and share it with me. They would then leave without the monkey – guess what, the monkey was now on my back! This would happen 10, 15, 20 times every day and every day I would leave work with all these monkeys piled on my back.
People would say ‘he’s a really nice manager, he’s really helpful.’ But actually all I was doing was taking on other peoples’ problems.
One day, Pete came to me and said ‘I’ve got a problem’, and I decided in that moment that I just couldn’t take another monkey – so I just looked at him and said ‘yes you have, haven’t you, what are you going to do about it‘, he said ‘I’m going to fix it’. ‘Ok’ I said ‘what do you need from me?’ Pete replied ‘I don’t need anything, I need to get on with it’. I didn’t think any more of it and I was grateful not to have another monkey.
The following day Pete came to me and said ‘thanks so much for your help yesterday it really helped with the problem and I think I’ve solved it’. I said ‘ok what did you do?’ he said ‘well I followed your advice’, which was kind of confusing as I hadn’t given him any advice! He continued to explain to me the problem he’d had and the actions he’d taken as a result of our conversation.
While I listened I realised that it wasn’t the advice I would have given him, my advice wouldn’t have been as good as the action he had taken. He’d taken this action of his own volition and still attributed it to me as I’d been his coach.
One of the reasons this sticks in my mind is because, I think, before then if truth be told I liked to help people and I liked to have the solution; the concept of allowing others to come up with their own solutions didn’t feel to me like it would be as satisfying.
I now know that, not only is it more satisfying to help someone to come up with their own solutions, and not only is that solution so much better and the learning for them so much stronger but you don’t end up with a monkey on your back!
Does our desire to impose our own solutions mean we’re setting ourselves up to be monkey-carriers more than managers?