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!
* 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.