He said it forty years ago, but I’ve never been able to erase the picture he painted on my imagination.  Bill, a member of my Dallas church and a professional counselor, told me that he ended each day by taking a monkey census.  He checked to see how many monkeys he had on his back.

Bill claimed that most of his patients came into his office with a Therapist-Patient-Problem triangle already at work in their minds.  In that triangle, they had one goal in mind—to transfer their Problem monkeys to Therapist Bill’s back and to walk out free of their Patient burdens.  So, Bill checked regularly to see how many monkeys he’d invited to take up residence on his back.

 I think of Bill’s cautionary tale often when I’m coaching.  I watch the “Coach-Client-Solution triangle” in my coaching conversations.  I intend to establish a strong Coach-Client relationship.  And, I deliberately try to clarify the Coach-Solution issue.  I have direct access to and some accountability for those two sides of the triangle.

But, I try to avoid taking responsibility for the “off-side” of the triangle.  It’s beyond my reach and obligation.  When I do take responsibility for willing the Client-Solution connection to work, I’ve overstepped, become a rescuer, and put myself on the road to burnout.  Most tragically, I’ve crippled my Client’s opportunity to grow and to move forward.

When I overreach and coach over on the Client-Solution side of the triangle, I’ve also invited an entire colony of monkeys to become my permanent houseguests.  That’s why I follow Bill’s advice and check during and after coaching conversations to see how many monkeys are now at home on my back.  (Apparently, I have been known to rescue clients.  It’s even rumored that I can serve as a great host for other people’s monkeys.)

Monkey census anyone?  Anyone?