Are you holding on to the monkey?


I had this interesting conversation with a General Manager (whose name I cannot reveal) of the largest Seminar company in the world. We were just talking about staff issues and how sometimes the managers of a company like to take on the responsibilities of their staff and try to solve all their problems. They sometimes feel responsible if their staff can’t deal with their own problems and try very hard to reassure their colleagues that “we’ll pull through this together, I just need to think of a way out”.

I call this syndrome: Holding on to the monkey.

Allow me to explain.

What is the monkey? The monkey is a personification of typical problems that your staff or colleagues face in their everyday work. Everyone has their own set of monkeys and it does affect their daily work. But what they do with it is important.

For most people, whenever they face a monkey or monkeys (many problems at the same time), they will usually go to their managers and ask for help. They share with their managers how it affects them and look for advice. This is good but this is where the problem begins. They leave the monkey with the managers and expect them to solve it.

I personally know it very well because I have many clients who share with me that they have informed their boss about the problem and are waiting for their boss to give them the direction.

The boss however, is not able to deal with the problem quickly (sometimes they are travelling or have work piled up so high that his or her face is blocked by stacks of files and papers). The problem now becomes the boss’ problem because the monkey is handled to him (or her). He becomes the bottleneck since everyone is waiting for him to give his ‘valuable’ input or turn on his ‘messiah complex’ to save the day with his brilliant ideas.

This is a huge mistake in most problem solving issues involving managers. They take on the problem themselves and hold onto their staff’s monkey.

A general rule that you always need to remember: if you are the manager, never work harder than your direct reports when solving their problems. If it is their monkey, you are not doing justice to them by holding on to their monkey.

If you are the manager, never work harder than your direct reports when solving their problems.

Before you get upset with me and say that I avoid solving problems, let me explain further.

I’m not saying that we should not listen to the problems of our staff and work with them to develop solutions. What I AM saying is that we should not hold on to the monkey. We work with them, but at the end of the session of brainstorming for solutions, we need to hand back the monkey to them. We allow them to take the responsibility of their own problems and empower them to solve it. We don’t take on everything and say that we will settle it for them. Let them follow through the problem and ask them to get back to you if there are further obstacles to demolish. This is what Solution Focused Brief Coaching is all about. Help the person move from being problem focused to solution focused.

In fact, we are so nuts about it that in our training, we actually have the monkey sitting in front of our participants our Solution Focused Brief Coaching training.

Back to the conversation that I had with the General Manager, she was joking that she asked her managers to give her their pay if she solved all their major problems for themselves. It was a little mean, but her staff got the point. They know that she will work with them, but not for them.

If someone hands you the monkey next time, remember to give it back at the end of the session. Empower them to solve their own problems and don’t create a monkey for yourself. 🙂


Picture of Kenneth Kwan, CSP
Kenneth Kwan, CSP

Kenneth Kwan is an internationally recognized Author, Global Leadership and Motivational Speaker, renowned for his ability to inspire and empower audiences worldwide. With over a decade of experience, he has spoken to leaders from 40 countries, helping transform cultures and shift mindsets within Multi-National Companies (MNCs) and Government Organizations. Kenneth’s expertise in solution-focused thinking and strategic planning has guided numerous businesses toward significant results and high-performance environments. Featured in esteemed media outlets like Channel News Asia and Malaysia's BFM89.9, his insights on leadership and motivation are highly sought after. Kenneth's book, "Small Steps To Big Changes," showcases his profound wisdom and practical strategies, making a lasting impact in lectures and training programs across the region.