“Shifting the Monkey” by Todd Whitaker


shifting-the-monkey-whitaker-todd-coverMy habit is to alternate between reading books on leadership (mostly for my own personal leadership growth) and books on education and learning (mostly for my professional growth in my role as a school administrator). And since this blog is specifically about leadership, not education, I generally only share my thoughts on the leadership books. However, I recently read a book that was in the “education” category, written by a professor of education at Indiana State University, that I found to be an excellent book for leaders in any profession.   This book, by Todd Whitaker, was called Shifting the Monkey: The art of protecting good people from liars, criers, and other slackers.


Whitaker defines “monkeys” as the responsibilities, obligations, and problems that everyone carries and deals with every day, but that often get shifted to someone else. It’s the coworker who shirks his duty, leaving someone else to pick up the slack; the boss who makes a bad decision and passes the blame on to someone else; or the customer who has a bad reaction in the store and creates an uncomfortable environment for everyone else within earshot. The problem is that these people are frequently allowed to shift their monkey on to someone else, making life more difficult for others. Because of our frustration, we pick up the slack from our coworker. Because it’s our boss, we cover for the bad decision or are too afraid to speak up. Because it’s in a public place, we don’t excuse ourselves from the uncomfortable situation in the store. Whitaker’s solution to these monkeys is a simple, two-fold process: identify the monkey, and shift the monkey.


To identify the monkey, Whitaker says, you need to ask 3 questions:

  1. Where is the monkey?
  2. Where should the monkey be?
  3. How do I shift the monkey to its proper place?

Then, in shifting the monkey back to its proper place, he says that you must do 3 things:

  1. Treat everyone well.
  2. Make decisions based on your best people.
  3. Protect your good people first.


This was a relatively simple and short book, but one that I found to be very practical. Almost immediately upon reading it, I began to notice when someone was (consciously or unconsciously) trying to shift their monkey to me. I found myself saying (to myself), “That’s not my monkey,” and consciously refusing to take on responsibilities or problems that were not mine, and keeping them where they belonged. This was actually quite stress-relieving, and ultimately helped my to keep my focus where it needed to be – on my responsibilities – while helping me to better redirect others to deal with their own monkeys.


For this reason, this is an “education” book that I would recommend to any leader!

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