Monkey Business is Good Business

As a manager, in today’s non-stop 365, 24/7 world, the level of “incoming” (both opportunities and problems), can be overwhelming.

I was offered a process that was sheer genius at the beginning of my career that has been fundamental in sharpening my leadership and management abilities, capabilities, and especially my coping mechanisms, as an executive.

At age 29, I was a studio chief at a large motion picture company and I felt overwhelmed and overburdened.  One evening I was invited to dinner at Jack Warner’s home, the former owner of Warner Bros, and an early mentor.  Jack had seen my consternation as I complained to him that everyone came in my office all day and left dumping their bigger problems on me. Warner had proved his merit as a story teller in a lifetime of achievement as he told me a yarn that has become a vibrant business tool for my life.

“Don’t be confused,” he advised me.  “You’re only renting that office. You don’t own it. You’re the zookeeper in a zoo.  Every one of those folks comes to your office with a monkey. Think of that monkey as their problem.  They’re trying to leave it with you. Sometimes they’ll hide the monkey and won’t reveal it until the very last minute. Your job is to discover it whether hidden or merely dressed up.  The key is to remember you’re the zookeeper and you’ve got to keep the place clean. So as the meeting ends, visualize yourself walking to the door with one hand on the purveyor of this problem and one had on the monkey.  Don’t let your visitor leave without it.  Tell them, metaphorically, that when and if they come back make sure it’s trained, i.e. they have solutions to their problems. Any other solution at the end of the day, you’ll have a screaming jumping troop of monkeys and monkey poop all over your office.”

I pay forward this story all the time to young colleagues and executives who tell me their tales of woe at handling an overwhelming load of problems foisted upon them.

Having had the value of supreme mentorship, I realized I must maintain that legacy and pass along leadership experiences and skills.  After all, you’re only “renting” those, too.

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