Friday, July 30, 2010

Monkeys, Monkeys Everywhere!

Camp was overrun by monkeys! Not real monkeys, mind you, but cute, stuffed, plush monkeys. Everywhere you went today, you saw members of the hanhala (senior leadership team) carrying their monkeys literally and not figuratively on their backs. No matter where I went, someone expressed curiosity and asked me about my monkey. I introduced them, as all members of the hanhala were to name their monkeys, to Chaim Yankel - my monkey. Over and over again, people asked: What is with the monkeys? Sometimes, I would just answer by reflecting back: You seem very curious! followed by a raised eyebrow and a little smile. On some level, this was just about fun - injecting a little bit of planned spontaneity, if there is such a thing, into camp as we kick off week seven.
Actually, this was an opportunity to do some staff training about managing people. One of my favorite parts of this job is working with the staff and helping them grow both as Jews and as professionals. When I was the director of Camp Ramah Darom, I discovered early on that I spent much of my time solving other peoples problems. They would call me on the radio and tell me what was happening and then say, Rabbi, what should I do? I would stop whatever I was doing and give them the answer immediately, whether it was a camper-related challenge or an overflowing toilet. My entire job became about solving everybody's problems for them. They were not learning and I was not actually doing my job.
One day, a rosh aidah approached me, explained some problem and then said those famous words: Rabbi, what should I do?! I found myself pausing, not because I did not know the answer; rather, I was thinking. And then I said, I dont know. What do you think you should do? Grand pause! The rosh aidah looked at me and blinked. This was a total change. I was not giving them the answer. They had to think about it for a moment and try to find an answer for themselves. It got to the point that if we worked together long enough you might call me on the radio, start explaining an issue and then stop mid-sentence and say, I know, I know, What do YOU think you should do? Victory! Once this became standard practice, people spent a lot more time thinking about things and working in a proactive way to manage issues than they did asking me to solve them. They learned and worked, and I learned and got my work done as well.
For so many of our staff, working at camp is the first job they ever have and for equally as many, being a rosh anaf (department head) or a rosh aidah (division head) is their first professional supervisory, managerial, or leadership role. As a result, part of the job of camp director is helping people grow, learn, and develop life skills in these areas including: how to give and receive feedback; how to solve problems; and how to take care of and feed their own monkeys instead of handing them off to their supervisors. Which brings me back to the Monkey Invasion of Summer 2010.
In thinking about how to empower leaders in camp and help them empower others, I was introduced to an article titled Management Time: Who's Got the Monkey? The article, written by William Oncken Jr and Donald L. Wass was published in The Harvard Business Review (HBR) in 1974. Since its first appearance, Who's Got the Monkey? is one of the two best selling reprints from HBR. The lessons of Who's Got the Monkey? are timeless. First, Oncken and Wass teach that there are five degrees of initiative available to any leader or team member:
1. Waiting to be told what to do.
2. Asking what to do.
3. Making a recommendation, then taking the recommended action.
4. Taking action, but advising others at once.
5. Acting on one's own, then routinely reporting to others.
Second: When you accept primary responsibility for a problem from someone are allowing them to transfer their monkey onto your back.
Third: ...perhaps most important, the manager (or leader) must overcome her natural eagerness to take on their staff member's monkey. She must develop a mentality of abundance that enables her to relinquish control and seek the growth and development of those around her.
Finally, when a staff member comes to discuss one of his monkeys, make sure that that they know that options 1 and 2 above are not allowed. That is, they must come to the conversation having developed at least one possible solution or approach to dealing with the problem rather than simply coming and asking "What should I do?"
In the seventh week of camp, it becomes very easy to simply solve every problem, to take somebody's monkey onto your back because at first glance, it takes less effort than giving them time and space to come up with some possibilities and then helping them think it through. In reality, however, if you are the supervisor/leader for 8 to 10 to 15 people and even half of them give you their monkeys and you accept them, then you are walking around with four to eight monkeys on your back, not to mention your own. As Oncken and Wall point out, until a leader learns the art of The Care and Feeding of Monkeys, what they have in actuality is a barrel of unruly, screaming monkeys demanding time and attention. And if you have ever spent time at The Great Ape House at any zoo, you will see that when monkeys play, they are frenetic bundles of energy. So, rather than focusing on their own work, the rosh anaf is spending all of her or his time dealing with the issues of staff members that by week seven they can easily at least think through and usually solve on their own.
About three weeks into our first summer, my dear friend and the first program director at Camp Ramah Darom, Rabbi David Glickman, said to me, "Rabbi Sykes...there is a fine line between empowerment and abandonment and you might want to be sure that you are standing on the right side of that line!" This was one of the most powerful and long lasting lessons from that first summer. The point of the Monkey Invasion of 2010 is not to abandon people to deal with everything on their own; rather, it is to help staff members grow by requiring of them that they come to discuss a problem having given it enough personal thought time to develop a minimum of one recommendation for resolving the issue. The art and growth for the staff member is embodied in those few moments of thought time. The art for the supervisor/leader is knowing when to push the staff member deeper in the conversation to uncover other ways to address the issue and when to direct the staff member to one of the solutions put on the table. Expertise in this art comes with time and camp can be the place where a future leader develops this key leadership skill.
At Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, we are blessed with incredibly bright, talented, committed staff members. We are also blessed with the opportunity to help them grow as current and future leaders. Learning how to feed and care for your own monkeys and helping others do the same, in a safe, supportive environment is one of the gifts that we provide our emerging leaders. At camp, we learn all kinds of Torah: Torah Shebichtav (The Written Torah - The Five Books of Moses), Torah She Baal Peh (The Oral Torah including Mishnah, Gemarah and Midrash), Torah Shel Hesed (The Torah of Mercy) and we teach the Torah of Leadership and Professionalism. This summer, I have been personally blessed to return to this incredible summer home, to learn from so many fantastic, young, emerging leaders, and to help support them in their journey to Jewish and professional leadership (and, via the Monkey Invasion of 2010, hopefully make them and the campers laugh just a bit).
Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Loren Sykes
PS As you know, this was an incredible week at camp. The storm that whipped through camp on Tuesday night was truly awesome in the most literal meaning of the term. Thank you to all of the campers for doing exactly as they were told prior to the storm's arrival. Thanks to the staff for performing at the top level throughout the incident. Thanks to our incredible maintenance staff for putting the camp back together so quickly and to all of the local contractors and tree removal specialists who did the repairs necessary in the fastest and best possible ways. The entire camp is to be commended for pitching in for the cleanup effort, from gathering leaves, twigs, and branches to gathering trash from all over camp. Finally, thank you to all of you for your generous support and kind words of appreciation.

No comments: