Who Owns the Monkey?

A culture of accountability

Nonprofit leaders are often overworked and under-resourced. As a result, staff problems can easily move up the chain of command. You need to create a culture of accountability to ensure that the only issues that land on your plate are the ones for which you hold clear responsibility.

In a culture of accountability, employees are more comfortable acknowledging reality, warts and
all. They do not just wait for someone else to solve the problem or hope things improve or spend
their time crafting excuses or pointing fingers at others. They take responsibility for finding
solutions and improvements for the problems over which they have clear authority.

Organizational structure

The job of a chief executive is to create an organizational structure with functional processes. When the number of staff exceeds a few, if everybody in the nonprofit is reporting to the top executive, dysfunction is inevitable. A good leader needs to be able to communicate that in a growing organization, hierarchy is a good thing. It speeds up decision-making.

To create a culture of accountability, reinforce individual ownership of problems. Always ask, “Who owns the monkey?”

Conversation Starter

Who Owns the Monkey

A complete set of conversation starters to accompany the chapter. ​


Who Owns the Monkey​

A complete set of tools to accompany the chapter.

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8 Practical Insights for Nonprofit Leaders


Culture matters. It’s a core organizational asset.


Respecting and trusting your people is the foundation of all good management.


Always listen for and even seek out signs of trouble. Bad news is good news if you do something about it.


Develop “court sense” to see everything that’s happening around you, and to rapidly adjust to changes.


Commit to doing “the whole job.” Investing in organizational capacity contributes to excellence and impact.


With limited time and resources, it’s essential to prioritize and then focus.


Planning is essential but success comes from the implementation of your ideas. “Book It and Ship It.” Make a decision and manage the consequences.


To create a culture of accountability, reinforce individual ownership of problems. Always ask, “Who owns the monkey?”