There’s No Time For Monkeying Around: How Managers Can Delegate More Effectively

I wish there was a more delicate or polite way to tell you this, but there isn’t: If you want to be a successful manager, you’re going to have to learn how to get those monkeys off your back!

Of course, I’m not talking about an actual animal, but rather problems and decisions. And those cute but pesky primates are the perfect metaphor because monkeys are curious and temperamental by nature, and boy are they clingy. They can gang up on you in a hurry!

If your directs are used to passing their monkeys on to you, the only person to blame is you. In other words, don’t accept the monkeys. However, I recognize that for many, this is easier said than done.

The reason you’re in a leadership position is because you have proven that you can manage a situation, a team and any circumstances that might infiltrate your arena of business acumen. Therefore, you might jump at the opportunity to help solve problems, but this can be detrimental to everyone involved.

In his book Shifting the Monkey, Todd Whitaker writes, “You can easily handle your fair share of normal monkeys, as long as you feel valued and supported. But you can just as easily become overwhelmed when you get stuck shouldering other people’s inappropriate monkeys. Some monkeys simply shouldn’t be your problem. Anger Monkeys, Guilt Monkeys, and Attack Monkeys are just a few of the monkeys people use to shift their burdens to others.”

Early on in my career, I suffered from an abundance of monkeys. I was dealing with ensuing public relations problems with the other units in the division, was expected to complete my work and merge two very different teams into one cohesive unit. I also had 14 employees reporting to me from eight different locations and was constantly inundated with phone calls.

My direct reports expected me to fix every problem, both real and imagined. Most of them didn’t know any better. They had been “trained” by my predecessor to call with their issues at all hours.

In his article, “The Art of Managing Monkeys,” Ken Blanchard outlines four rules of monkey management. I’ve found the rules to be a helpful tool in giving executives the ability to refuse and return monkeys without being accused of buck-passing or abandonment. Here’s how I apply them and advise others to do the same:

1. Label the monkey. Define its parameters and specifically outline the next steps that need to happen to care for the monkey. Let the new owner ask questions. Having an employee agree to take the monkey because she thinks she has no choice isn’t effective.

2. Allocate the resource(s) to handle the monkey. The monkey should be assigned to the lowest organizational level reasonably equipped to handle it. Minor monkeys shouldn’t be allowed to climb up the administrative ladder.

3. Assure the monkey will be handled. When you divest yourself of a monkey, you can’t just drop it on a desk with no instructions. It’s imperative you ensure it will be taken care of — make a plan, get buy-in from the monkey owner-to-be and proactively put in place consequences if the monkey isn’t handled in a proper and timely manner.

4. Confirm the monkey is healthy and thriving. Check in with the owner to monitor the progress on a regular basis. This doesn’t mean pestering the employee who now owns it; it means taking the time to confirm progress is being made.

I found that with a bit of encouragement, and a firm explanation of why a particular monkey was assigned to them, my employees started to change. They began to embrace their responsibilities and were motivated by their own successes in problem-solving. It took time, patience and understanding, but eventually, they realized my days of taking care of monkeys that weren’t mine were over. Not only did their morale increase, so did mine. I was once again invigorated because I was being challenged by my assignments and was no longer performing tasks I had outgrown. I wasn’t constantly interrupted to act as a referee, a psychologist, a technician and a peacemaker.

The ongoing development of a more independent team means that everybody wins. When each member understands their role, their duties and their responsibilities, “the machine” runs more smoothly. If you teach people that their team members are some of their most valuable resources, you give them the tools to gain more knowledge than they could ever get by just working alone. If you teach people the skills of how to obtain the answers they need, you’ll free yourself up to be available to help them when higher-level issues do arise. You’ll also be able to help in a sincere, mentoring way because you won’t be exhausted by all that monkeying around.

Monkeys, monkeys everywhere! Don’t you have enough to do? Isn’t there enough on your plate? Get those monkeys headed in the right direction and everybody wins.

This article has previously been featured on  Forbes.

Pass Greatness On And Watch It Grow

When you think about your growth and advancement, do you automatically stop to think about bringing your best and brightest along with you? It is no small task to inspire your team members to greatness. If they can grasp the extent of your enthusiasm, they may be able to hitch their wagons to your star. Those great performers who automatically share in your vision tend to be few and far between.

The question is: How do you get the rest of your team to follow suit? How can you get them to catch the wave of your passion for the job at hand? How can you possibly show them the path you see in your vision for the team, the division and the company? It’s not easy. It takes patience, creativity and perseverance. Most of all, it takes a big dose of leadership.

When I work with executives who want to know how to begin the process of empowering their employees, I suggest starting with an exercise in introspection. What are your leadership strengths? Perhaps more importantly, what are your leadership weaknesses?

Have a look at yourself from the outside. Leave any emotion or ego out of it as you imagine how you are viewed by your team, how you are viewed by your peers and how you are viewed by your management. Chances are you are viewed differently by all three.

If you decide some work on the perception of you is in order, start with your team. They are the most important piece of the success equation.

When you spend the time mentoring, teaching and leading your team to greatness, one of the many payoffs is that your peers and leaders will notice the difference. When you pass your inspiration and desire for excellence on to others, it grows your own at the same time.

If you plan to develop team members and give them the opportunity for growth, you’ll need to inspire them. It’s important to make them feel connected to the purpose of their daily tasks, actions and the processes by which they’re expected to adhere. Let them know how their work supports the work of other teams and other divisions and, ultimately, improves the satisfaction of the customer. If you don’t, you risk leaving behind mediocre performers who think that all they do is check off boxes on a form day after day. Where’s the enthusiasm in that?

People will follow you if you honestly feel passion and purpose in their work and in your own. It’s immediately obvious if you’re faking it — and job title alone won’t encourage top performance. If you don’t know how or aren’t willing to learn how to lead, it’s unrealistic to believe anyone will follow. Don’t just talk the talk. Demonstrate your integrity and trust and behave ethically at every turn in good times and bad.

Practice active listening with your team members. Hear what they are saying and even what they’re not saying. Ask questions for clarification. Keep calm, even if they admit a failure. Provide solutions, not criticism. Be the boss that you’d like to have and the one they need.

Demonstrate your commitment to development and growth. It may be difficult for you to delegate projects and tasks if you’re used to being in control. The trick is to give serious thought to each team member and where they are in their progress. Susan may be ready for the challenge of taking on that high-level report summary, whereas Mitch is currently better suited to tackle the calculations for the graphs in the report. The key is to assign the task with the right difficulty level, which will stimulate headway and set them up for success.

When success does occur, don’t be stingy with the praise or the reward. Although the task may have been nothing but a cakewalk for you, remember there was a time when it wasn’t. There was a time when someone else challenged you with it to help you succeed.

In their book Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader, authors Linda A. Hill and Kent Lineback explain: “Full mastery comes slowly, as with any serious craft, and requires steady progress in a world that keeps throwing up ever more complex challenges and opportunities. We know highly competent managers who consider themselves still learning even after years of experience.”

Resist any urge to take credit at the next staff meeting when your team produces an excellent product — give credit where it’s due and celebrate. Pass along any praise to your employees so they understand that their work ethic is being communicated upward.

When success does not occur, use it as a learning experience for your team. Analyze what went wrong and where without assigning blame. Focus on the positive. How can we fix it? How can we avoid the mistakes we made in the future? How can we do it better next time?

Marala Scott in her book Passion Inspires Greatness: A Journey with Purposereminds us, “There are people that will identify your lack of self-control as a weakness and use it at their advantage in competition or when it is critical to exposing your character. Being great does not mean you are great when things are going well. What it means is that you apply self-control when they are not.”

Present an optimistic view of the future. Know that when you put in the work to lead your team to greatness, you create something superior to a team that performs well. You are planting the seeds for future leaders to grow and mature to be their best selves.

This article has previously been featured on  Forbes.

Here’s How To Break Up With Overthinking

Do you find yourself working diligently for hours but, at the end of the day, feel like you’ve accomplished nothing? Or perhaps you accomplished several things, but none of them were important? Even with the best of intentions, are you lagging behind on the due date for an essential project? If so, you may be the latest victim of a global business problem: analysis paralysis.

Overthinking is a problem that affects us all at one time or another. Not only does it rob us of creativity, but it also destroys performance and the implementation of objectives. Add to that the fact that overanalyzing makes us indecisive and mires us in the minutia of the project at hand. If you’re eager to break out of this cycle of indecision, there are several things you can do.

1. Practice making small choices quickly.

It doesn’t pay to ponder the little things. It’s simply a waste of your valuable time. How long did it take you to decide where to go for lunch and what to eat? How long did it take for you to pick something to wear? Eliminate those time drains. Lay out your clothes the night before, and don’t rethink the decision the next morning. Pack a lunch the night before, or quickly choose where you’ll order lunch from tomorrow. It sounds simplistic, but making routine or relatively unimportant choices swiftly will free up hours of time in the long run. It also saves you from decision fatigue.

2. Let go of perfectionism.

You are not perfect — no one is. Once you let go of the notion that there is ultimately one flawless solution, you free yourself up to discover the practical solution or the creative one or the best solution possible with the data currently on hand.

In his book The Perfection Paradox: Accept Your Addiction, Overcome Your Obsession and Escape to Excellence, author Jeffry A. Kramer explains, “Self-imposed perfectionistic tendencies come from a burning internal desire to excel at what we do. The experts call this self-oriented perfection, but I saw it as wanting to do my best. I had one problem though—it never was. No matter how well I did, I always thought I could have done better.”

Stop worrying that you’ll make the wrong decision. If your decision turns out to be a little off base, you can make course corrections as you go along.

3. Don’t underestimate the power of intuition.

There are times when your head is full of possibilities, your stress level is through the roof and you’re absolutely stuck going around and around in circles. Stop the cycle by doing something completely different. Go for a walk. Eat a snack. Stare out the window. Now that the mental spinning has stopped, come back to the decision you were trying to make. What is the first thing that comes to mind? What does your gut tell you? Trust your instincts and do what you feel is right whether you’re ready or not.

4. Put things in perspective.

Are you making the problem more important than it really is? Don’t let the progression of analysis paralysis blow things out of proportion. Be assertive. If someone else came to you with the same problem, and you weren’t personally involved, what advice would you give that individual?

Sebastian O’Brien notes in his book Stop Overthinking: The Complete Guide to Declutter Your Mind, Ease Anxiety and Turn off Your Intensive Thoughts, “Overthinking contributes to severe depression and anxiety and interferes with problem-solving abilities.”

That’s reason enough to take control of the problem before it takes control of you. Once you disconnect yourself from the problem, you may realize you’ve been making a mountain out of a molehill.

5. Work on your self-confidence and practice acceptance.

Learn to not let decision-making consume you and your time. To minimize your stress and overthinking, it’s helpful to make peace with uncertainty. Take some time to search inside yourself for the possible causes of your overthinking. Have you spent too much time around people who are overly critical? People who find fault with every part of every project because they didn’t get to make the decisions can push you into overanalyzing every step of your plan for no reason at all.

6. Build helpful habits.

Teach yourself to recognize the signs that you are sliding down the slippery slope of overthinking. Because it’s a downward spiral that sucks the emotional and creative energy out of you, the sooner you recognize it is happening, the sooner you can rein it in. Create a constructive way to discipline your thinking patterns. You may find it helpful to speak to a mentor, therapist or coach. You’re not the first person to deal with analysis paralysis and seek the advice of someone who deals with it on a professional basis.

Surround yourself with a filter so only the most important decisions fill up your day. If possible, delegate anything else. Do the most important thing first without procrastinating.

At the end of the day, if you waste your time putting out tiny fires around the workplace and don’t protect your own mental space, you’ll find it’s your office that burns to the ground.

This article has previously been featured on  Forbes.

Are You Unconsciously Buying Into The Model Minority Stereotype?

In the workplace, understanding the importance of embracing diversity has been the subject of many company directives, managerial workshops and mission statements. However, even if you have done your homework, made your efforts to be fair and impartial and have consciously confronted your own internalized prejudices (that you may have initially not even believed you had) you may still be buying into a pervasive notion.

The background history of the term ‘Model Minority.’

That perception is that the “Model Minority” actually exists. The term was first popularized by William Petersen, a University of California, Berkley sociologist. In 1966, he penned a story for the New York Times about Asian-Americans entitled “Success Story, Japanese-American Style.” The article portrayed them as rule-abiding, intelligent and law-abiding.

An article for Harvard Law School’s Center on the Legal Profession explains the concept. “Since its introduction in popular media more than half a century ago, the term ‘model minority’ has often been used to refer to a minority group perceived as particularly successful, especially in a manner that contrasts with other minority groups.” It continues, “In particular, the model minority designation is often applied to Asian Americans, who, as a group, are often praised for apparent success across academic, economic and cultural domains — successes typically offered in contrast to the perceived achievements of other racial groups.”

How ‘Model Minority’ status pits racial minorities against one another.

On the outside, it sounds like a compliment, but it was unfortunately a backhanded compliment. This view stood in direct contrast to another minority — African Americans, who had a history rooted in slavery and were still struggling against poverty, bigotry and huge socioeconomic inequalities. The article touted Asian Americans as being raised by intact two-parent families who were hardworking and honest and insisted on academic excellence from their children. Not very subtle.

Part of the irony is the amount of prejudice the United States originally heaped on Asian Americans. In 1882 the Chinese Exclusion Act was a response to the Chinese workers who were brought to the U.S. to serve as cheap labor. Additionally, during World War II, Japanese Americans were rounded up and put in internment camps because they “might” be spies for the Japanese government, who the U.S. was at war with at the time.

The gist of the theory was that Asian Americans were “well behaved” (in the opinion of white middle-class Americans). In contrast, why couldn’t other minority groups emulate them and comport themselves accordingly?

Present-day ‘Model Minority’ stereotypes.

The next question is: Are you as a manager, director, VP or C-suite executive still buying into this 55-year-old generalization? Do you believe that Asian Americans are hard-working, industrious and naturally more intelligent to the exclusion of other minorities? Do you think that by virtue of race alone a person can excel at math, science, medicine or technology?

In an article for NBC News, Kimmy Yam describes yet another problem stemming from our categorizing others as a member of the model minority and having such exceptionally high expectations simply because of race, “The group is roughly three times less likely than whites to seek mental health help. While Asian Americans report fewer mental health conditions than their white counterparts, there are Asian Americans are much under-represented in management positions.” Their societal-induced inclination toward politeness, excellence and diligence may cause upper management to overlook them for upwardly mobile positions because there can be a lack of self-promotion and perceived assertiveness.

There is also a prevalent inability by business people to recognize the difference between disparate Asian cultures and ethnicities. This failing can cause tensions in the workplace. Lumping all Asians together in the white mind results in not understanding the specific cultural differences between Asians. It makes them feel marginalized and not seen for who they are as individuals.

In her book Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling: Career Strategies for Asians, Jane Hyun notes, “Who are Asian Americans? Far from being homogenous, we are of varied Asian ancestry. We represent multiple nationalities and languages as well as many social and political viewpoints. At last count, there were over 80 distinct Asian languages spoken in the United States. Even within each specific Asian group, there is considerable variability in education, class and acculturation level.” She adds, “What further complicates matters is that non-Asian Americans often think of Asians as a homogenous group of people.”

Address your own biases around minority stereotypes.

Take a bit of time to reflect on your perception of the model minority myth. If you’re of a certain age, you may have internalized it without even realizing it. Consider how it has affected many of your colleagues, especially those of Asian American descent. Open the discussion, ask the difficult questions. It can only bring you closer to the societal truth.

Recognize what brought it into being — consider the white man who first invented the term. Obviously, he was a product of his time. He actually might have thought he was doing something helpful for Asians.

If you think you’ve never been in contact with or subject to the idea of the model minority, give it some thought. You might find biases you never even knew you had.

This article has previously been featured on Forbes.


Direct Or Blunt: What’s The Difference?

Have you had a spate of recent interactions that have left you wondering if many of the employees and peers you work with on a daily basis are simply not paying attention? If you have traditionally employed a direct communication style, you might have unknowingly slipped into an offshoot that encompasses a more aggressive and blunt characteristic.

If longtime colleagues you have historically put your faith in are expressing their concern with your effect (or lack of effect) on the team’s morale, it should concern you enough to contemplate the possibility.

Have you noticed your comments and explanations becoming more and more abrupt? For many personality types, this can come across as anger directed at them. Do you find yourself tuning out valuable theories or helpful suggestions, only to discover, when you truly study it, that you have just been waiting for your chance to speak?

If you’re not even listening to your trusted advisors, you need to take an honest look at yourself and your behaviors and consider that you’re bullying people without even realizing it. If even your friends tell you you’ve been acting pushy and hardheaded, you’ve probably crossed the line from straightforward into uncompromising, brusque territory.

In their book Words That Work in Business: A Practical Guide to Effective Communication in the Workplace, Ike Lasater and Julie Stiles point out, “We believe the people around us expect us to act a certain way, and often we react to this by confining our behavior and communication within the narrow bounds of our beliefs about their expectations.”

If this is the case, it’s possible that you haven’t even initiated the behavior change. Are you experiencing an especially challenging situation, such as the serious illness of a family member or a loss of income in these tough times? Have you recently acquired a new boss who is herself harsh and uncompromising and pushing you to mimic her behavior to get the “troops” to fall in line? Are there recent additions to the board of directors who are setting new company goals that are impossible to meet? Any of these situations or something similar can throw off your leadership style and disrupt your otherwise orderly life.

What steps can you take to get back to your formerly successful direct form of management? If you were previously prone to prompt but orderly action and found decision making a quick and easy process, it stands to reason you’re longing to return to normal. If you’re willing to make the effort to get out of your recent rut, you might as well go the extra mile and actually improve your leadership method.

One change you can make, although it will likely take effort on your part, is learning how to actively listen when communicating with your team and your co-workers. To accomplish this, you will have to learn to control your tone and your nonverbal cues. Don’t be inattentive, don’t let your mind wander and most of all, really listen. Don’t just be planning the next thing you’re going to say. Do not interrupt the other party even if your mind has already raced to the speaker’s conclusion and you’re ready for a constructive rebuttal.

As Jay Sullivan explains in his book Simply Said: Communicating Better at Work and Beyond, “If we put the focus on what the other person is trying to gain from the exchange, we will do a better job communicating, because we will select more pertinent information, drill down to the desired level of detail, and make the information we are sharing more accessible to our audience.”

Consider that not everyone is like you. Even though you say what you mean without any added fluff, other people may actually need at least a modicum of common pleasantries to be effective in the workplace. With something as painless as a “good morning,” you will gain more of their attention — which is a big part of effective communication.

You’ll need to find some common ground when interacting with another individual or even a group. Don’t show your impatience with allowing them to veer off topic slightly. However, feel free to redirect their conversation after a couple of minutes to the problem at hand.

Another suggestion for more effective communication for people with a direct style of interaction is to not just point out the issues to your team members without offering some solutions for a better, more efficient resolution. No one wants to work diligently on a plan only to be told they’re completely wrong.

When you’re offering constructive feedback to an employee, ensure that you are directing your comments and suggestions to the situation at hand and the work that was done. Don’t direct the criticism to the employee because it will come off as a personal attack.

If you decide it’s worth your while to attempt even a few of these suggestions, I believe it will ultimately be to your advantage. In my career, I have worked with many executives who had a direct communication style, and I can tell you that the majority of them who made the effort were, in the long run, less stressed and more content with their career progression.

This article has previously been featured on Forbes.