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Upward Jumping Monkeys Attack Business Leaders

Upward Jumping Monkeys Attack Business Leaders

May 29, 2014

We’ve seen flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz, watched a large monkey climb the Empire State Building in King Kong, and learned from the stories of Curious George.

But what are “Upward Jumping Monkeys,” and how can learning to repel them to make you a more successful business owner?

Keep reading to find out.

Attack of the Upward Jumping Monkeys

No, it’s not a sci-fi movie, the latest iPhone app, or the name of a new punk band. “Upward Jumping Monkeys” are, in fact, all around you. You know they’re there because they are slowing you down, wasting your time, and preventing you from doing what you do best.  

Each day, when employees come to you with problems they can’t resolve, they are taking the “monkeys” from their backs and letting them jump onto yours! Issue after issue, problem after problem, the “Upward Jumping Monkeys” pile up and keep you from moving forward.

The End of the Leader-Follower Relationship

Let’s use an example. One of our clients is a collections agency. In their business, they need to be very careful to comply with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) policies and practices. During a recent meeting, an employee was concerned about a compliance issue and asked the owner how to resolve the problem.

Here’s what happened in the past: The leader was a very helpful guy. He listened deeply. But then he took the “Upward Jumping Monkey” onto his own back. He took over the issue and solved the problem. Now, he was working for his employee instead of his employee working for him.  

There’s a better way. Remember, your goal is to build a team of leaders. So the owner should put the onus back on the employee and ask, “Hmmm. How are you going to solve the problem? Here's where you can find the information from the CFPB. Get back to me tomorrow and let's review what you did.”  Whoa. What a totally different way of dealing with problems. The first way kept the team disempowered and dependent. The better way facilitates problem-solving, while taking the owner out of the equation.


Take action now with a business "rock star" who has done this in the real world. Learn the quickest way to reduce "Upward Jumping Monkeys" in your company with a complimentary Freedom Team Building Session with a business mentor. Take our Freedom Teams Assessment today!


Rather than being a leader with followers, prompting employees through each and every issue that arises, your goal is to become a leader who empowers others to take on leadership roles.  You want to change your business approach from Leader-Follower to Leader-Leader, removing the burden (and the accompanying headaches) from yourself. In short, you want to keep the “Upward Jumping Monkeys” from landing on your back.

To do this, you need to start teaching your team problem-solving skills.  Rather than buying someone a fish, teach them how to fish. In this case, rather than taking their monkeys, you need to teach them how to manage the monkeys themselves. This comes from training, delegation and feedback on how well they did their job.

Why You Need Monkey Repellent

It sounds so simple: teach others how to solve problems. You’re probably  saying, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

What could be standing in the way? Your ego, for one thing.

As Mel Brooks said quite often in his 1981 hit comedy The History of the World Part 1, “It’s good to be the king.” Far too many leaders believe leadership means showing everyone how much you can do by playing superhero, putting out all of the fires, and solving all the problems.  The problem is that superheroes don’t get much time off to enjoy life. When was the last time you saw Spiderman enjoying a picnic?

The most successful leaders, in any industry, have responsible teams who can step up and solve problems. These leaders give direction, but they won’t take on every problem themselves.

A weak leader feels gratification by solving many problems. But by taking on everyone’s problems and putting out all the fires, you are creating a glorified job and not getting the best use of your time. You end up working for your employees instead of your employees working for you.

Breaking “Co-Dependence” is Not Just for Alcoholics  

The other mistake many leaders make is that they allow themselves to be so helpful that they become enablers, forging dysfunctional, co-dependent relationships.  When parents do their children's homework for them, when families of alcoholics make excuses and handle their responsibilities, or when you, as a leader, solve all of your employees’ problems, you aren’t enabling growth and learning. Instead, you are communicating that you like being wanted and needed.  For some leaders, this is the result of arrogance, while for others, it’s insecurity.  Either way, it doesn’t work. The name of the game in the workplace is to focus on the two C’s: shifting control and improving their core competence.  

David Marquet, author of Turn the Ship Around: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders, put it very well: “The leader who gives up control gains more power and influence than the one who keeps it.”

Can You Say No  to “Upward Jumping Monkeys?”

Yes, you can - if you are ready to dump your ego. Just like our client at the collections agency did, you can begin by telling yourself again and again, ‘I will not shoulder everyone’s problems,’ ‘I will not shoulder everyone’s problems.’ Remember, the more people become dependent on you to solve their problems, the less initiative they will take.

Seven bottom line take-aways:

  1. Tell yourself that being a good leader means shifting control and increasing competence in your team. In other words… you need to let go. Task by task.
  2. Ask yourself: How can I turn this into a training opportunity? What do they need from me?
  3. Rather than solving someone’s problems, ask them for solutions.  How would they approach the problem? How might they solve it?
  4. Offer suggestions, but, as hard as it may be, do NOT provide all of the answers.
  5. Set up a timeframe in which your employees should return with their solution(s) for a feedback session.
  6. If they have succeeded, give specific positive recognition and support.  If they have not, discuss their approaches and see if perhaps there are other solutions, they might try. Do NOT give in.
  7. Repeat this process again and again until you are no longer the “go-to” person for every problem. You want to break the co-dependency. If you do the pay off is huge. You will build a freedom team who can take your organization on to the highest levels.


Take action now with a business "rock star" who has done this in the real world. Learn the quickest way to reduce "Upward Jumping Monkeys" in your company with a complimentary Freedom Team Building Session with a business mentor. Take our Freedom Teams Assessment today!


Sure, it’s great to be the problem-solving superhero. But if you’re always zooming off to combat the latest crisis, you’ll never rid yourself of the “Upward Jumping Monkeys.”

Taking you from where you are to where you want to be,