A client and I were reviewing her DISC assessment the other day. Her report said this:
You demonstrate extremely high attention to detail as you strive for perfection. You strive to make things as high-quality as possible and may be disappointed when things turn out just “pretty good.” Few people on the team have the ability to attend to details and to follow through the way you do.
As I inquired whether this was true, she said, “Yes, but I am trying to remember, Not my monkeys, not my circus.” I asked her to explain because I had never heard that before.
She said that a coworker had shared the expression with her and it basically means to leave it alone if it is not her problem.
Even though my personality type is very different from this client, I have the same tendency. I want to fix things. Avoid conflict, make it all better. It takes a concerted effort for me to walk away.
Where does Not my circus, not my monkeys come from?
Though my client said it the opposite way, apparently the right phrase is “not my circus, not my monkeys” and it comes from an old Polish proverb.
As I was researching for this post, I found this well-written article by Karen Ann Kennedy on Huffington Post talking about “not my circus, not my monkeys.” She had been given a sign from a coworker, and when someone asked for advice, she jumped into fix-it mode. I could really relate to what she said:
In that moment, I got it! I realized exactly what the sign meant and I knew that one of the biggest causes of stress in my life was my need to become the ringleader of every circus in town.
I need to incorporate, “not my circus, not my monkeys” whenever I am tempted to jump in there and fix the problem or worse, agonize over an issue that may have no solution right now.
I work alone and I still struggle with this. It has been many years since I have been in an office environment. I can remember early in my career when problems came up when I was in property management, I tried to solve the problem.
However, I tended to go get the opinion of 5 different residents to prove to myself that I was doing the right thing. Sometimes the problem didn’t even need fixing and sometimes it was someone else’s problem.
Focus on the phrase: Not my circus, not my monkeys
Empower your team to do their job. As tempting as it is to be the problem-solver, let your team solve the problem. They will learn more from the process. Not my circus, not my monkeys.
Ask yourself why you need to get involved. Are you trying to boost your ego as a problem-solver? Not my circus, not my monkeys.
What is the cost to you? I have a policy that I don’t read or watch things that are upsetting before bed. If I do, I will end up with a sleepless night. Sometimes, things are out of my control. Last night, someone returned a call on a family issue after 10pm when I was already almost asleep. I didn’t sleep well after that but I did repeat, “Not my circus, not my monkeys” to try to refocus my energy.
Can I offer any value to the situation?
If you know that there are other qualified problem solvers already in the arena, step back and let them work. Your ego can take a break, “not my circus, not my monkeys.”
Will the world fall apart if you don’t try to fix the problem?
Sometimes we become so “me” centered that we don’t allow ourselves the opportunity to walk away. Think “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”
If you are one of those people who can’t stop taking over whenever a problem arises, perhaps this concept will help you.
See this as a teachable moment when you can allow others to take the helm. Leadership is allowing others to use their skills to solve problems, not solving the problems for them.
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