“If you’re a leader, imagine that most people who come to you have a monkey on their back and they want it to jump down, run across the desk and climb on your back and stay there,” my friend said. “If you’re not careful, soon you’ll have everyones monkeys on your back including your own. You’re job is to make sure that monkey goes right back to the person who brought it in.”

It’s easy as a leader to be mister-or-missus-fix-it. People bring problems – their problems – to you hoping you swoop in with solutions and save the day. It feels good being a hero. However, the best leaders I know don’t fix people’s problems, they empower people to fix it themselves. Rather than taking their monkeys from them, they give them back but help that person find their own ways to get rid of the monkeys.

This concept, often referred to as giving the work back, has the fundamental principle of empowerment at it’s root. Leaders that I admire are ones who empower people to discover their own solutions to problems.

One of the best, and most practical, ways I’ve seen that happen is by well-placed questions which help people come up with their own solutions. Here are a few examples:

  • What do you think the root cause of the problem is?
  • What do you need to fix the problem?
  • What would the right solution look like in six months or a year?
  • What can you do to ensure this doesn’t happen again?
  • Is there a new skill you can work on that will help  you fix it?
  • Is there a tool you need?

Are you a leaders that’s carrying around a lot of other people’s monkeys that don’t belong on your back? Maybe it’s time you gave them back.