As I looked through my list of blog post ideas, I came to a book that I read a couple of months ago that has great relevance to the daily practice of school-level leadership. The book to which I am referring is Shifting the Monkey by Todd Whitaker. I know that Peter Gabriel said that I need to "Shock the Monkey." As a child I used to play with a Barrel of Monkeys. My mother used to tell me to quit all the Monkey Business. And, apparently monkeys are adept at mimicry in that they often see and then do. However, I have never been told that I need to shift monkeys, so the title of the book was immediately intriguing. Additionally, various members of my PLN recommended it, which is good enough for me.
As I began reading the book, I quickly understood that we were going more down a "monkey on your back" kind of road and really started to understand why these monkeys would need shifting. I have read several of Todd Whitaker's books in the past and I enjoy his straightforward, common-sense, accessible style of writing. The book is not long, but it has a focused message that quickly resonated with me. The subtitle of the book is, "The art of protecting GOOD PEOPLE from LIARS, CRIERS and other SLACKERS." We all know these types of people and as leaders we could all use some advice on helping the former while addressing the latter.
@ToddWhitaker defines monkeys as "responsibilities, obligations, and problems everyone deals with every day." Unfortunately, there are people in every organization who are masters at moving their monkeys onto the backs of others, whether it is through their own doing or through their leader's desire to avoid headaches by simply not assigning monkeys to these draining people. He does an excellent job of explaining many different types of monkeys and exactly how they get placed where they do. Ultimately, the question that the book seeks to answer is, "How do I protect my good people?" These folks are vital to the success of the organization; however, it is not realistic to move all monkeys to their backs simply because it is a certainty that they will handle things appropriately. Not only is it unrealistic, but it is completely unfair.
As the book progresses, the focus shifts from recognizing monkeys to shifting them where they belong. The leader's role in this is key. With the power to direct the location of monkeys in an organization the leader must ensure that they are distributed to the correct people and not just the good people. Whitaker spends the latter part of the book discussing types of monkeys and how to effectively shift them to their rightful owners. He also explains how leaders can contribute to the problem by creating monkeys that are not necessary. One common example of this is creating a rule for everyone to correct the behavior of a few. This places a new monkey on the backs of all employees instead of just the ones to whom the rule is directed.
I think that the book is an important read and can help any leader develop a positive environment. It has given me a great deal to think about in my own organization. The question to answer for any workplace is: Are the monkeys appropriately placed? If not, that might throw a Monkey Wrench into the works!
Feel free to comment if you are so inclined.