Leadership is NOT Monkey Business

Ever feel like you have a monkey on your back?


As the parent to small children, we tend to spend a lot of time at the zoo.  My favorite animals in any zoo are the monkeys.  You can almost guarantee they will be doing something, while all the other animals are hit or miss.  No matter when we go, all the other animals seem to have just laid down for a nap.

I was reminded of a leadership lesson I learned a few years ago from my father, a retired school principal.  As I was reading a post from a fellow blogger, Joe Lalonde (@JosephLalonde), entitled Why You Must Have Leaders at Every Level, the story of a monkey flooded my mind.

As Joe argues, leaders need to be developed at every level.  Leadership is not about position, if it is, it’s not really leadership.  One of the best ways to understand a way to accomplish this is through the exercise my father taught me from his days in school administration.

As the principal, he would find himself away from school for various reasons throughout the year.  He recalls what it was like during his first day back on campus.  The line would begin forming outside his door, and as different staff members would enter his office, they all had a monkey on their back.  As they began to talk, the monkey moved from their back to the corner of dad’s desk.

In an attempt to prevent them from leaving the monkey, he would ask, “What would you have done if this would have happened yesterday while I was gone?”  They would provide an answer and he would hand them their monkey and encourage them to try what they suggested.  If it didn’t work they were free to come back.

Please comment below – What do you do to give those around you their monkey back?


  1. Hmm, so a good leader is a kinda like a good zookeeper. 🙂 A good zookeeper keeps the monkeys where they belong. In their own cages.

    • Yes. The only difference is the zookeeper must get in the cage from time to time. We cannot avoid monkeys, but we can empower our team to think through solutions without simply subcontracting every decision to us.

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