Shifting the Monkey, Todd Whitaker’s recent book on leadership from Triple Nickel Press, is a slim and easy read full of helpful ideas. If you are in a leadership position and want to improve the culture of your organization, I would definitely recommend it.
Initially, before reading, I was a bit bewildered by the title. I thought, “What in the world is a book about monkeys going to offer me?” Todd Whitaker, however, clearly explains his metaphor in the book’s early pages–monkeys are responsibilities. Everyone has them. Except slackers and complainers. They are the ones who shift their monkeys onto others.
Whitaker explains that leaders often reward their behavior by allowing this to happen, by allowing their burdens to be lifted and placed onto the backs of other, more dedicated workers. And Shifting the Monkey is all about how to prevent this from happening. That way, monkeys stop being shifted by poor performers. The problem, Whitaker makes clear, is NOT lazy or incompetent people but rather that these people are being allowed to shift their monkeys.
One thing I appreciated about the book is that Whitaker’s advice and suggestions are specific and clear. He explains all his ideas in detail, making his suggestions extremely easy to follow and implement. In fact, he gives 3 questions that are the foundation of his message:
- Where is the monkey?
- Where should it be?
- How do I shift it to its proper place?
Not only is the message clearly outlined, and the ideas elaborated nicely, but the book is also filled with anecdotes from Whitaker’s own work in leadership positions. My personal favorite was on page 75, when he assigned the responsibility of planning a party to two shiftless workers. It’s a story that makes you squirm a little in discomfort, sort of like an episode of The Office, but, like all of the stories in the took, it drives home the point very well.
I will say that at some points while reading Shifting the Monkey, I found myself thinking that some of the ideas were a little too…how do I put this…cheesy? Happy? Not sure what the right word is, but there were times I thought “Yea, right.” (Hang in there because I’m going to explain how I changed my mind after thinking about it more.) For example, Whitaker recommends shifting the monkey back onto negative people by treating them with a positive attitude. Essentially, he says you should be super nice to your biggest complainers. I wasn’t buying it at first. It seemed too passive-aggressive–phrasing things in a positive way, offering anonymous praise, etc. But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a really smart tactic because he’s not recommending a positive attitude when dealing with only negative workers, but with all workers. Using kindness is a way of rewarding your best workers and challenging your negative workers to stop shifting monkeys. Pretty smart.
Finally, I’ll say that one of my favorite things about this book is how much it focuses on protecting the good workers. I think this has huge applications in the world of education (be forewarned this book is written for leaders in a general sense, not specifically education administrators) because we ask so much of teachers and so many get burned out and leave the profession completely. This seems to happen most in schools that are most desperately in need of teaching talent. It makes you wonder how reading this book could help leaders prevent that from happening.
So, with the school year upon us, if you’re in a leadership position of any sort (or if you aspire to be someday), Shifting the Monkey is well worth the time. It’s concise, practical, insightful, and a book that will keep you thinking long after you’ve finished reading it.