Managing You Time - "Who's Got the Monkey"

Topics: Monkey, Boss, Initiative Pages: 10 (3027 words) Published: March 15, 2006
An analogy that underscores the value of
assigning, delegating and controlling

Richard T. Christensen, Management Consultant

In any organization, the manager's bosses, peers and subordinates, in return for their active support, impose some requirements, just as the manager imposes some requirements upon them when they are drawing upon his or her support. These demands constitute so much of the manager's time that successful leadership hinges on an ability to control this "monkey on the back" effectively.

Why is it that managers are typically running out of time while their subordinates are typically running out of work? In this article, we shall explore the meaning of management time as it relates to the interaction between managers and their bosses, their own peers and their subordinates. Specifically, we shall deal with three different kinds of management time:

Boss imposed time To accomplish those activities which the boss requires and which the manager cannot disregard without direct and swift penalty.

System imposed time To accommodate those requests to the manager for active support from his or her peers. This assistance must also be provided lest there be penalties, though not always direct or swift.

Self imposed time To do those things which the manager originates or agrees to do. A certain portion of this kind of time, however, will be taken by subordinates and is called "subordinate imposed time." The remaining portion will be his or her own and is called "discretionary time." Self imposed time is not subject to penalty since neither the boss nor the system can discipline the manager for not doing what they did not know the manager had intended to do in the first place.

The management of time necessitates that management get control over the timing and content of what they do. Since what their bosses and the system impose on them are backed up by penalty, managers cannot tamper with those requirements. Thus their self imposed time becomes their major area of concern.

The manager's strategy is therefore to increase the "discretionary" component of their self imposed time by minimizing or doing away with the "subordinate" component. They will then use the added increment to get better control over their boss imposed and system imposed activities. Most managers spend much more subordinate imposed time than they even faintly realize. Hence we shall use a monkey on the back analogy to examine how subordinate imposed time comes into being and what the superior can do about it.


Let us imagine that a manager is walking down the hall and he notices one of his subordinates, Jones, coming up the hallway. When they are abreast of one another, Jones greets the manager with "Good morning. By the way, we've got a problem. You see...." As Jones continues, the manager recognizes in this problem the same two characteristics common to all the problems his subordinates gratuitously bring to his attention. Namely, the manager knows (a) enough to get involved, but (b) not enough to make the on the spot decision expected of him. Eventually, the manager says "So glad you brought this up. I'm in a rush right now. Meanwhile, let me think about it and I'll let you know." Then he and Jones part company.

Let us analyze what just happened. Before the two of them met, on whose back was the "monkey?" The subordinates. After they parted, on whose back was it? The manager's. Subordinate imposed time begins the moment a monkey successfully executes a leap from the back of a subordinate to the back of his or her superior and does not end until the monkey is returned to its proper owner for care and feeding.

In accepting the monkey, the manager has voluntarily assumed a position subordinate to his subordinate. That is, he has allowed Jones to make him subordinate by doing two things a subordinate is generally expected to do for a boss the manager has accepted a...
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