Remember the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz? Scary little creatures you need to dodge like low flying pigeons that at any time were intent on kidnapping and destruction. Woah… I dodged that one! Phew! Flying Monkeys abduct managers and invade their bodies, making them lead with avoidance, stealing their street credibility and preventing them from achieving their leadership license to operate. They take the place of integrity, responsibility, and ownership as a small voice in our head mistakenly says “Fly, My Pretties, Fly!”
How many times have you felt someone at work — a boss or maybe even yourself — threatening frightening consequences if people don’t fall in line? Directives starting with ‘If we don’t do this’…and ending with ‘then this will happen’. That’s a Flying Monkey. It’s the monkey on your back that rather than for example, taking the time to really engage people in a decent conversation as to why something needs to change, we toss consequences around, or worse still, we incite fear. Sure, it seems the best thing to do at the time, after all, those things may in fact happen. But really? Do people really respond to flying monkeys? If they did, we’d all lose weight, smokers would stop smoking and we’d try to save our money for that rainy (pandemic) day. No such luck! Flying Monkeys rarely inspire us to get in the game and mostly just cheese people off. With great gusto!
Worse still, we sometimes enact other people’s flying monkey power, explaining that someone else wants something done — our boss or their boss, letting responsibility for what needs to be achieved leap from our own RACIs and fly out the window. Sam wants this done because she needs it for the Board, rather than ‘I need this done because we really need to get that problem solved.’ Each time this happens, we step out of the driver’s seat and into the back seat, riding along and directing traffic instead of leading.
The more Monkeys we launch, the more points we lose in the eyes of our people. They see the Monkeys coming at them, full on, smacking them in the face. Each flying monkey we hurl brings demerit points, double demerits if we use other people’s monkeys. Your people tracking the points until you’ve lost so many you’ve lost your leadership license to operate, and with it all your credibility.
You know that trust is built over time, but each time you launch a flying monkey it chips away at that trust. Your teams roll their eyes in disgust, starting to wonder why you have to blame others, why you can’t take responsibility, why you feel you have to make excuses. You use flying monkeys too often and you chip away at your team’s confidence in you.
So, what can you do to build your street cred and reduce your flying monkey power?
1. Label the Monkeys: don’t be embarrassed by Flying Monkeys, instead, see them, label them, catch them and dispose of them. It’s only when you start to recognize the flying monkey’s we all use, that you can identify them and eliminate them. Call them out. On you and others. Make a pact between you and your team that each time a flying monkey takes off, it’s OK for anyone to catch it and stop it.
2. Adopt 100% accountability: each time you plan on discussing something that needs to be done, changed, or achieved, find the reasons why. Then remove all the reasons that point fingers to someone else or cast blame. Anything worth doing is worth doing for the right reasons, for your reasons, and not for someone else’s reasons. Take the time to really understand why actions need to be taken and then take the time to explain it.
3. Keep tabs on yourself: make a note of each time you use a flying monkey or someone else’s flying monkey. Then ask yourself why you didn’t have the confidence to take ownership of the action, assignment or request yourself. Answer the question: What made you not want to own the monkey?
Owning what needs to be done is a great first step to building trust and engaging others. It may not be an engager alone but by eliminating flying monkeys from your management approach, you remove a dis-engager, something that cheese people off about you. And you build street cred as you build your capability to manage to engage…..
Learn More: In my new book, Manage to Engage I remind leaders at every level: An engaged workforce is the great advantage. Everything you do as a manager requires people to be engaged. Transformation requires an engaged workforce. Performance improvement requires an engaged team. Achieving your objectives requires engaged team members. Being a great corporate citizen requires you to engage your community. Engagement levels power up or shut down an organization. As a manager and leader, you have a direct impact on engagement. Learn how to Manage To Engage.