A Fun Take on Whether Managers Are Manageable

Friends,

Fifteen minutes before we went on the air on Saturday morning, I said to Frank, my technical producer: “Hey, do you think you can find an audio clip of Tony the Tiger saying ‘they’re G-r-r-r-r-eat?’” I explained that it would be fun to play it to introduce Kathi Elster and Katherine Crowley, who were joining me to give advice to listeners on workplace issues. Frank said, “It’s kind of last minute, but I’ll see if I can.” What do you do when your supervisor makes a stretch – if not totally unreasonable – request of you? Dan and Chip Heath in an article in this month’s Fast Company magazine offered some fun and effective thoughts on how to deal with situations like this in their article “Your Boss is a Monkey.”*
The Heath brothers offer that you would do well to think about “managing your boss” in the same way that exotic animal trainers alter the behavior of their charges. The Heaths offer 3 rules: ignore bad behavior (instead of getting manipulated by it); realize that all interactions matter; and reward good behavior! So, if I were a habitual last-minute manager, and you wanted to have some impact with me, you would first, ignore my bad behavior, i.e., don’t get all bent out of shape by it. Don’t let the monkey, elephant, lion, or manager think you’re flustered by his insolence, irreverence, etc. Neither cower nor shriek nor, for gosh sake, run away! Stay in control.
Second, realize that your behavior will always teach the animal a lesson. So, if you bail me out again at the last minute, I’ll learn: “I can do this last-minute stuff, and it’ll all work out. Sweet! Or, as the teenagers say, ‘Solid!’” Frank did a good job with me. He told me it was last minute and he’d see if he could. In this case, he couldn’t, so this monkey, me will feed into my mental model: I may need to ask Frank sooner than the last minute next time I need something from him.
Third, the Heaths say: reward good behavior. So, for example, when I actually give “Reading for Leading” to my team to format before midnight on Sunday, commend me on my thoughtfulness, promptness, etc. And don’t forget: it takes a LONG time to train a monkey! So you have to patiently seize and celebrate all the small wins along the way.
The ‘boss as monkey” theory raises plenty of questions, but in two short pages the Heaths offer an intriguing idea for managing your manager. It’s also an interesting mirror to hold up to yourself as the monkey-manager! I thought it was good enough to distribute the article to my team. I hope they’ll all keep training me, because the better I am for them, the better we’ll produce together. You need that kind of input to
Lead with your best self!
Dan
* You can find the Heath’s article entitled “Your Boss Is a Monkey.” at http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/124/your-boss-is-a-monkey.htmFriends,

Fifteen minutes before we went on the air on Saturday morning, I said to Frank, my technical producer: “Hey, do you think you can find an audio clip of Tony the Tiger saying ‘they’re G-r-r-r-r-eat?’” I explained that it would be fun to play it to introduce Kathi Elster and Katherine Crowley, who were joining me to give advice to listeners on workplace issues. Frank said, “It’s kind of last minute, but I’ll see if I can.” What do you do when your supervisor makes a stretch – if not totally unreasonable – request of you? Dan and Chip Heath in an article in this month’s Fast Company magazine offered some fun and effective thoughts on how to deal with situations like this in their article “Your Boss is a Monkey.”*

The Heath brothers offer that you would do well to think about “managing your boss” in the same way that exotic animal trainers alter the behavior of their charges. The Heaths offer 3 rules: ignore bad behavior (instead of getting manipulated by it); realize that all interactions matter; and reward good behavior! So, if I were a habitual last-minute manager, and you wanted to have some impact with me, you would first, ignore my bad behavior, i.e., don’t get all bent out of shape by it. Don’t let the monkey, elephant, lion, or manager think you’re flustered by his insolence, irreverence, etc. Neither cower nor shriek nor, for gosh sake, run away! Stay in control.

Second, realize that your behavior will always teach the animal a lesson. So, if you bail me out again at the last minute, I’ll learn: “I can do this last-minute stuff, and it’ll all work out. Sweet! Or, as the teenagers say, ‘Solid!’” Frank did a good job with me. He told me it was last minute and he’d see if he could. In this case, he couldn’t, so this monkey, me will feed into my mental model: I may need to ask Frank sooner than the last minute next time I need something from him.

Third, the Heaths say: reward good behavior. So, for example, when I actually give “Reading for Leading” to my team to format before midnight on Sunday, commend me on my thoughtfulness, promptness, etc. And don’t forget: it takes a LONG time to train a monkey! So you have to patiently seize and celebrate all the small wins along the way.

The ‘boss as monkey” theory raises plenty of questions, but in two short pages the Heaths offer an intriguing idea for managing your manager. It’s also an interesting mirror to hold up to yourself as the monkey-manager! I thought it was good enough to distribute the article to my team. I hope they’ll all keep training me, because the better I am for them, the better we’ll produce together. You need that kind of input to

Lead with your best self!

Dan

* You can find the Heath’s article entitled “Your Boss Is a Monkey.” at http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/124/your-boss-is-a-monkey.html.

6 responses to “A Fun Take on Whether Managers Are Manageable

  1. “…The ‘boss as monkey” theory raises plenty of questions, but in two short pages the Heaths offer an intriguing idea for managing your manager. It’s also an interesting mirror to hold up to yourself as the monkey-manager!…” First, most, if not all ‘monkey-managers’ don’t, or will not, see their reflection in any mirror! Two, such managers, just love to sling their “mess” to the less powerful ‘monkeys’ with glee. It is mostly the younger ‘monkeys’ that get caught by the ‘monkey-managers’ “antics” in these situations. As you point out: “… it takes a LONG time to train a monkey! So you have to patiently seize and celebrate all the small wins along the way.” Gee, we have learned (or need to learn) to wait out these types of managers (or other co-workers).

  2. G. Thomas,

    I don’t agree with you that most managers “don’t or will not” see their reflection in the mirror. But here’s the interesting question: do you? The entire point of that sentence that you excerpted was that each of us can look at our own self. Not sure if you manage anyone – whether in a strict or loose sense, but do you look in the mirrorr?

    I suspect that you do, but that you may have some reticence, some unease about looking at your faults, and so you are like most managers and most humans. It’s not easy to look at ourselves clearly, and it’s hard to have others do that.  So, parents and other managers do, as you put it so graphically!  “sling their mess.”  I agree with you on that. I still get mad at my kids for little things when I’ve had a bad day, but I’m willing to look at that. I think most managers are willing – in the right context – to look at their foibles, including “slignging the mess.”  But, again, they’re human; they have fear of not measuring up, of being criticized, etc. So, managing up take cares and strategy.  It can be dangerous work.

    Your third point is the most sad, though. “Wait out” the bad managers (or coworkers), you say. The cost of that is so high. I loved the Heath piece on “monkeys” specifically because it offered a different strategy than “wait it out.” Can I invite you to take a second look???? Are you sure you can’t do some of what they’re talking about? Because in your current “wait it out” situation, I wonder how you would describe your status, state of mind, etc., in the monkey world where your boss rules? What is your picture of yourself in that village of (human) monkeys?  I suspect it’s not great.  So, why not act to change it?

    1. Hello Dan, You correctly question me on “do I look at my own reflection?” The answer is, generally, yes. My biggest challenge is my bluntness; what I think is often stated and not “managed” for it’s effect. I give what is too honest an opinion. So guess what? “I’m not a “team player” sometimes. And, you guessed it! Paper to the nose! Especially as a “outsider,” Read (diversity). Now, I’m not the angry-male, you-owe-me type. I manager HR issues and give management good advice to prevent staff problems, yet that assistance is, often, viewed as obstruction or being thin-skinned (as the diverse member of the “team”). Conspiracy Theorist, no, just still treated like the new kid on the team after 11 years yet being very processionally informed of my field. So, managing up and being labeled “thin-skinned” for the effort often has me looking at my reflection, for many complex social reasons; managing-up is a major reason why I do much questing of my reality. The “are you SURE of what you’re stating is CORRECT” is very tiring and is a major part of the lower-monkey/higher- monkey dynamic dimension.

  3. You are undeniably correct when you say many underling monkeyss fear heads would roll if the boss suspects she’s being “managed.” Of course, a truly good “boss” monkey feels secure about leading the group, appreciates the input and support of all the TEAM monkeys, and does not feel threatened by them. Those with intractably, know-it-all bosses might find opportunities in starting their own businesses which they can then operate using more positive monkeyshines. ;D

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