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  • Writer's pictureRay Sanford

Monkey Business


Leadership Lessons from "The Care and Feeding of Monkeys": A Guide for Rotarians

As part of our constant pursuit of effective leadership and community impact in our Rotary clubs, it's essential to learn from timeless wisdom. William Oncken Jr.'s 1974 article "The Care and Feeding of Monkeys" is a brilliant piece that speaks directly to the heart of leadership. Here's why it matters to us as Rotarians.


In the article, Oncken uses a vivid metaphor of having a monkey on one's back to illustrate the problem of leaders taking on unnecessary responsibility from their team members. When a leader takes on a team member's problem, that problem becomes the leader's to solve, consuming precious time and energy.

Two Types of Monkeys

Oncken identifies two kinds of "monkeys":

- Active monkeys: Problems that need solving

- Passive monkeys: Tasks that need doing


Leaders, whether in the business world or in our Rotary clubs, may unknowingly take on these monkeys from their team members. Most times it's because it is easier and quicker to do it themselves.

In our Rotary community, we strive to create lasting change. This often involves complex projects that require strong leadership. That means we have the opportunity and responsibility to mentor and bring along younger and less experienced members.


We must understand that our role as leaders isn't to do all the tasks or solve all the problems ourselves. Instead, our job is to guide and empower our fellow Rotarians to take on these challenges, providing support without taking over.


The Way Forward: Guiding without Taking Over

Leaders should:

- Ask clarifying questions

- Provide resources

- Offer guidance

- Avoid taking responsibility for solving problems or completing tasks

- Recognizing that different people will come up with different, but perfectly acceptable (and sometimes superior) solutions.


This approach fosters growth, training and empowerment within our club members, aligning perfectly with our Rotary values.


Why This Matters to Rotarians

The principles from "The Care and Feeding of Monkeys" resonate strongly with the Rotary leadership model. They highlight the importance of delegation, accountability, and the power of working together without unnecessarily burdening our leaders.


We must continue to lead with wisdom, understanding that our goal is not to take on all the tasks ourselves but to inspire and guide others to achieve success.

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