March 2010

Shannon Wells

Better Business | by Neil Ducoff


Collecting Monkeys on Your Back?

One problem, two problems, three problems, four... collect enough problems, you’ll be down on the floor.

You arrive at the salon and enter through the rear door. A mountain of dirty towels that has clearly been ignored lies before you.

As you make your way through the salon, you’re approached by a colorist who informs you that the salon is out of stock on the color she needs for clients that will be arriving shortly.

As you work your way through the hair department, you see a number of dirty stations with used towels on the chairs. Your spa director tells you the only massage therapist on duty for the day just called in sick, and asks what to do about all the scheduled appointments.

You finally make it to the front desk, only to discover a frantic coordinator and two upset clients that were double-booked with the same stylist. You’re told that your banker is on the phone, and head for your office...where you learn your account is overdrawn because you forgot to make a deposit.

Your pager notifies you that your first client of the day just arrived. That’s when the sinking feeling sets in — as you feel the weight of all those monkeys on your back.

Many entrepreneurs get stuck in the seemingly endless rut of collecting problems that pile up like monkeys on their backs. These situations are usually caused by two common mistakes:

One, business owners who find it difficult to delegate effectively because they can’t let go of the controls of the business.

And two, the systems and processes necessary to create the desired results are often loosely defined or simply do not exist.

Giving up control is perhaps the most difficult task for owners and managers because “being in control” is perceived as a means of achieving predictable results. Unfortunately, it is also an open invitation for monkeys to climb onto your back. And it runs contrary to modern business thinking, which says, “You cannot lead until you give up control.”

When tight control is the mandate, the intellectual abilities and expertise of employees is stifled. Remember, it’s okay if things are not done “your way,” because your way is not the only one. If you truly want to lead — and get all those monkeys off your back — you must give up control.

You manage systems…. You lead people. If you don’t like the results you’re getting, the feeling of all those monkeys on your back, you need to change or develop your systems.

Systems define how work is done in order to achieve specific results. Members of your leadership team and/or employees could have addressed the situations described in the opening paragraph. But without the necessary systems to guide them, and the authority to make on-the-spot decisions, they can’t keep the monkeys off your back.

What this really is describing is leadership, delegation and systems — all built on a foundation of trust in your team’s ability to make the right decisions. Leadership and key employees need to know they play a meaningful role in the growth and stability of the business. They will then respect the responsibilities they are charged with (which is nice because shared responsibility aids in employee retention).

Getting the monkeys off your back will take some time. Begin by defining outcomes, and creating systems to produce those outcomes. Then, relax your control. Learn to say, “I trust you will make the right decision,” or, “How would you handle this situation?” Clearly, some monkeys will find their way onto your back, but they will never again weigh you down as you transform into a leader.

Neil Ducoff is the founder and CEO of Strategies, a business training and coaching company specializing in the salon and spa industry. He’s author of Fast Forward, and a new book, No-Compromise Leadership, published by DC Press and is available at For more information go to You can email Neil at