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One of my favorite “work” books, The Advice Trap, written by Michael Bungay Stanier, hooks the reader on the first page with the heading: Your advice doesn’t work.
Nothing like ingratiating the reader with what could seemingly be interpreted as an insult. Yet how can one not read further with an intro like that? But read further on you must because the case he makes is rather difficult to disagree with.
Of course, I’m sure some of your advice has worked well in the past; however, in reality, it works less well than you think.
According to Stanier, that’s for two immediate reasons:
1. You’re Solving the Wrong Problem – being suckered into “solving” the first challenge presented is often not the real challenge at all. Digging deeper, remaining curious longer (a concept we explore in DETAIL during our workshops on Intentional Leadership), and deliberately examining ideal outcomes helps to prevent solving the wrong problem; however, our immediate willingness to provide our brilliant advice stops all three of those efforts in their tracks.
2. You’re Proposing a Mediocre Solution – Even if you find yourself working on the “right” challenge, Stanier notes that oftentimes, we’re still not operating with the full picture in mind. We may think we know enough of the details to know what is going on, but more often than not, we fall victim to “first-idea-itis” rather than taking the time to explore better choices.
What do I do as a leader if I’m being told to abolish my advice?!?!?
As a leader, the desire to speak can be viscerally galvanizing. I get it. The challenge however is that when you do speak, people automatically take your comments as direction, regardless of whether you meant them to be directional, actionable, or merely just opinion.
Therefore, if your goal is to develop independent thinkers, problem-solvers, and innovative teams, you must attempt to stay out of the advice lane and operate in the carpool lane.
Here are a few tips on how:
1. Resist the urge to TELL, SAVE and CONTROL – You could probably tell someone how they should do something, you could probably save a situation from disaster for someone, and you could probably control the outcome of a decision if you wanted to. But ask yourself….What is the cost if I do that? Who learns from that? Who benefits from me doing those things?
2. ASK away – Learn to ask great questions. Components of a great question start with the words: WHAT, WHEN, HOW, WHO, TELL ME MORE. Great questions are followed by SILENCE. Ask the question and then STOP TALKING.
3. Be LAZY – Yes. You do not have to have all the answers. In fact, we’ve already established you don’t have all the answers, so stop trying; it’s annoying and demotivating to your team around you. Ask questions, be curious enough to listen to the answers, ask more questions, ask more questions, and then ask again. Think of your job as peeling away the layers of an onion, the more layers of inquiry and curiosity you peel away, the closer to the core you get. Answers come from helping others derive them. Don’t do all the work.
I encourage you to pick up The Advice Trap if you would like to learn more about how you can tame your Advice Monster. It’s a great read.