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Monday, July 23, 2012

Who’s Got the Monkey?

Is anyone else still a little shaken by the Harvard Business Review article “Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey?” And not just because of the graphic metaphor of monkeys on your back as work problems. Before reading this article I thought of myself as a good and growing people manager. I had a basket full of buzzword-worthy skills—ready to empower, open to feedback, lead by example, manage for results, manage for change—that I tried to exhibit in my management. And now I can add a new and rather ugly epithet, “monkey hoarder.” Yep. I have a long history of hoarding my direct reports’ monkeys and treasuring them as long as I can. When I reflect back on my management experiences I see myself weighted down by more monkeys than I can count. Still I never recognized this tendency until I cringed my way through this article. Monkey hoarding is a subtle problem, not easily identified. 

The scariest part about the hoarding is how much initiative I have actively taken away from my direct reports as much as they have given problems me. Any why you ask? Well, doesn’t it feel great to be a problem solver, to be ready to put your work aside to help someone else? I always equated that quality with good management, as the building of a trusting relationship through a mutual dialogue. But, as Oncken and Wass note in the article, “Before developing initiative in subordinates, the manager must see to it that they have the initiative.” It is not good management, then, simply to solve your direct reports’ problems. You become too busy to be effective and your direct reports are robbed of their own development. In reality those quick fixes evolve into long-term management problems which are much harder to solve.

This article was one big “Aha!” moment for me.  I also recognize that monkey hoarding does not, on its own, disqualify me from being a good manager. It does, however, stop me from being a better manager. I am now doing my best to kick the habit.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

20 Miles from Teaneck to Tribeca

On March 30th at 3pm, having received confirmation that all three hundred and four of our students arrived home safely, I logged on to the Princeton Alumni Corps website to complete my application for the "Emerging Leaders Program." With only twenty- four hours remaining until the deadline, I was locked-in like Eli Manning in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLVI, with only two minutes to go on the clock. Serenaded by the sweet sound of Multi-Grammy winner Adele playing in the background and having completed yet another work week which felt more like an episode of Survivor, I was rolling in the deep but felt right at home. Traveling to the surface for air, I managed to complete the application and began the process of waiting in eager expectation to receive a response. I didn't have to wait long before I received signals sent to my helmet, encouraging me to remove my closed circuit re-breather and hop on a call with one of the Program Directors. How would I describe what I felt following that call? I was excited, optimistic and nervous all at the same time. My first task would be to read two articles and come in with a self-portrait based on feedback I'd obtained from my co-workers. Fast-forward Sunday, June 10, 2012, I was making the "20 Mile March" from Teaneck, New Jersey to a "next level" Tribeca loft used as a think-tank for economist. However, on this day the space would serve as the home for our first session. We were encouraged to arrive at 8:45am and told that that the session would begin promptly at 9am. I arrived at 9 o'clock on the dot, hungry, but too embarrassed to grab anything from the breakfast table. I immediately thought, "This is going to be a long day." Upon entering the room, I looked around at the seating arrangement and decided I would sit at the first table, but in the far-right corner. My thought process in making this decision was, be out of eye view of the facilitator, while at the same time still close enough to all the action. Unaware of what to expect, my mind was oddly occupied by thoughts of a Jim Collins article I read earlier in the week. In reading "How to Manage Through Chaos." Collins introduces the term "Twenty-Mile March." For Collins, this term is used to define the concept for companies to keep a steady pace no matter the environmental factors. However, in typical me fashion, I only processed what my itching ears wanted to hear. I instantly begin to use the concepts from the article to get me focused on the events to come. I told myself on more than one occasion during the first session "Stick to a regiment of consistent progress." "Be yourself!" "Don't try to do too much!" "Stay far away from the red line of exhaustion!" I could hear Collin's cheering me on as I sat there. Unfortunately, this did not last very long. I quickly found myself impressed with the facilitator and both inspired and challenged by my peers. From just the first session, I feel like a fire had been lit under me to plan my work and work my plan. While I have no clue as to what will transpire over the next six months, I am optimistic that both my new team and me will make it to the South Pole safely.