Not my circus, not my monkeys — Advice for CEOs

Big Red Car here in the ATX where it is 51F at 4:00 AM and it’s going to be 80F this afternoon. Sunny to boot. A day to remember one’s sunscreen.

Ah, winter in the ATX. Hey, I’m sure it’s nice where y’all live. And what a blessing to be able to get a good workout shoveling snow, no? Blessings upon y’all!

So, the Big Red Car wants to chat with the CEOs and aspirants about the issue of delegation.

“Not my circus, not my monkeys.”

That phrase comes from Poland. It is a wise idiom, no?

The Circus

If you are a CEO, it is not difficult to imagine your business being analogous to a circus  with many rings.

Leadership, management, board of directors, shareholders, venture capitalists, operations, tech, marketing, fulfillment, hackers, finance, quality control, and customers. Add yours.

It IS a freakin’ circus, isn’t it? A three to nine ring circus to be sure.

And you, cher, are the ringmaster one day cleaning up after the elephants and the next day selling tickets and the next listening to the roar of the lions on your board calling for their portion of bloody meat.

Being a CEO is a circus. Oh, yeah!

The Monkeys

You have put folks — good folks, the best you can find and afford — in charge of certain things (think their rings in the circus) but the second they have a real problem, they come running to you because, face it, you are the El Supremo, the Ringmaster, the tamer of lions and the disciplinarian of monkeys.

Their problems are the monkeys.

Let’s be clear here — you LOVE the idea that you’re the one they come running to but then you also love cheeseburgers, right? Sometimes, we like shit that is not good for us.

Your folk, good all of them, slink into your office with their monkeys on their back. The second they sit down, the monkeys are turned loose and the monkeys are hanging from the chandeliers, using the whiteboard, scurrying beneath your desk, and finger fucking your keyboard. Left alone, they will give you a Wet Willie.

Those are the monkeys. The problems and your folks — all good folks — want you to adopt their monkeys and tame those little shits.

Then, your folk — good folk all — try to dart out of the room leaving the monkeys there for you to deal with, clean up after, and floss.

Haha, you’re smiling because you get the truth of it, don’t you? You, dear CEO, are a cheeky monkey yourself, aren’t you?

To which you say, “Hey, wait a minute. Not my circus, not my monkeys. Take your freakin’ monkeys with you.”


The very best CEOs learn to delegate everything. One more time — the very best CEOs delegate themselves out of a job.

This doesn’t take place over night. It takes years to assemble a team, to create the necessary plans, to assign the right objectives, to create the right accountability atmosphere but it can be done.

I have seen it done. I have done it. It works. Delegate yourself out of a job, if you are brave enough because it takes bravery to loan your convertible to someone else.

A great CEO ransoms her time — time being the most valuable resource for any CEO — and then injects it into the circus where it can make a critical difference. She is only able to do this if she has delegated effectively and thereby husbanded her time for critical uses only.

Nobody was ever born being a perfect delegater and it is a process at which you will get better and better. With practice, so start practicing. Right now. Right. Now.


The first step in effective delegation is planning — Vision, Mission, Strategy, Tactics, OBJECTIVES, Values, Culture — and the assignment of clear (SMART — specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time constrained) OBJECTIVES to subordinates who will take ownership.

[Pro tip: Get them in writing from day one. Make your folks take ownership. Hold them accountable. Base their performance reviews — including compensation — on the attainment of these objectives.]

And, then, don’t let them leave their monkeys in your office when they come to visit.

Tell them, “Not my circus, not my monkeys. Take your monkeys right back from whence they’ve come and make them into monkey meat.”

So, there you have it, dear reader.

“Not my circus, not my monkeys.” Polish.

But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car. Be kind to someone who least expects it today. Screw with their mind as they try to figure out, “Hmmm, why?”


5 thoughts on “Not my circus, not my monkeys — Advice for CEOs

  1. Nice description of the life of a CEO. My first serious CEO role was a pulling the car out of the ditch turnaround. Fortunately I a good coach who taught me how to change the team rapidly. The DNA of the team was to dump problems on the CEO then go back to the battle with no behavioral modification, the CEO would patch and fail. Since then my motto is as leader I am a guide on the side not a sage on a stage. the relationship role is one where we explore together and each execute their part or embrace the new boss who can execute. I figured the board worked that way with me so keep it congruent!

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