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When I look back over my leadership and life, there’s just something so sticky about a good analogy. I love a great word picture, and this one has stayed with me for years.

It originally came from a 1974 article in the Harvard Business Review which you can read here.  It’s about the dynamics in a workplace where managers unintentionally find themselves creating a bottleneck, and taking on all of the problems of their team members.

Picture two people coming together to engage a problem. That problem is like a monkey on your back, who needs to be fed and cared for. During the conversation it can straddle both of you, but it always leaves on someone’s back. You might not be a team manager, but this concept will be helpful for you if:

  1. You’re consistently unsure of who’s doing what in your life, and always asking, “whose problem is this!?”
  2. You secretly (or not-so-secretly!) feel resentful. “Why am I the only one pulling my weight and keeping everything together?!”

You feel frustrated in communication. Often you think a conversation has gone one way, but then find out the other person thought it went a completely different way. “Well that’s not how I remember the conversation!

Whether you’re a team manager, the parent of a teenager, or managing your household with your spouse, it’s such a helpful picture!  When you’re responsible for other people, it’s so important that when anyone comes to you with a monkey on their back, they leave with a monkey on their back.

Take a listen, and I promise you’ll start to see monkeys popping up in conversations… and you might even end up with fewer on your own back.


Nicole Unice is a popular author and communicator who is passionate about facilitating environments of safety and vulnerability so that individuals and communities can courageously identify the obstacles keeping them from maximum potential.

Nicole lives in Richmond, VA with her husband, three children, and two dogs!

In her books, Nicole is passionate about making transformation attainable and accessible to people in all stages of life. As a coach, she brings clarity and courage for individuals and teams as they pursue a preferred future.  As a speaker, Nicole brings both wit and wisdom to the platform, with an honest and vulnerable approach that appeals to both faith and leadership environments alike.

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