Monkey Business

The ETA Owner/Operator as Manager

Pete Weishaupt
3 min readApr 3, 2024

You’ve spent agonizing months conducting an exhausting self-funded search and have finally landed your dream business. Now you’ve got to run it. And to run it well, you’re going to need to delegate. But delegating isn’t easy?

“Who’s got the Monkey”

Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey?” by William Oncken, Jr. and Donald L. Wass is one of the best-selling articles at Harvard Business Review. In the article, a reboot of Onken’s original 1974 article, the authors posit a situation where managers (or the new owner/operator) get overloaded with responsibilities (“monkeys”) that should be delegated.

It looks like this: your to-do list is so outrageously long it feels like you’re gearing up for an ultra marathon. And just when you think you’ve got a grip, boom, tasks start dropping like flies. It’s a jungle of ‘to-do list’ monkeys clawing at your back!

The tasks are monkeys. And each one represents something you’ve got to handle — not the whole shebang, but just the next actionable step. Now, some of these monkeys rightfully belong to you. They’re your babies, your responsibility. You’re the owner/operator here, the one to take these monkeys and run the ball down the field.

But there’s a plot twist. Among these righteous monkeys are the rogue monkeys, the ones that should be chilling on someone else’s back, not yours. These are hitchhikers and freeloaders that you’ve unwittingly collected, and holy shiz, do they start to weigh you down.

Drowning in a sea of monkeys, especially those that shouldn’t be yours, is usually a self-inflicted wound. We’re all guilty of it. Maybe it’s because you’re Tom Brady of task management, or maybe it’s your control freak kicking in — “I can do it faster, I can do it better.” Whatever the reason, scooping up more monkeys seems like the way to go. We all want control, especially as a new owner/operator with your life savings and future on the line, right?

Here’s the kicker, though. Taking on extra monkeys might make you feel like an All-Star, but it’s a fast track to burnout. These additional monkeys muscle out your own monkeys, and running your business becomes a logistical nightmare.

How these sneaky monkeys find their way onto your back? It’s often through those innocent-sounding offers: “Let me take a look at that,” “I’ll sort it out,” “Send it my way.” Before you know it, you’ve adopted another monkey and your back is screaming for mercy.

Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s great to be helpful, and as an owner/operator you want the team to know you can always be counted on. But there’s a thin line between being a team player and becoming the team’s pack mule. Taking on too many monkeys isn’t doing anyone any favors, least of all yourself.

So, what’s the game plan? Effective monkey management. The top dogs, the real MVPs, know it’s not about hoarding tasks but nurturing the right ones. They focus on the monkeys that are truly theirs and dodge the ones that should be leaping onto someone else’s back.

Remember, it’s about playing smart. Your back has limited real estate, so make sure it’s occupied by the right monkeys. Because at the end of the day, managing your monkeys wisely isn’t just good for you, it’s good for the team and the success of your business. You’re going to need to learn to delegate at some point, so start now. And the next time you’re about to adopt another task, ask yourself: is this monkey really mine to tame?