Leaders face daily the task of coaching and mentoring. In these conversations, leaders draw on their own experiences as a way to provide direction on a current or future situation. Some handle this well. Others, not so much. I once had boss who loved giving me advice. He thought he was helping – he really did. “Let me give you some advice,” he would say. In fact, he started most of these conversations with: “Now, I’m not telling you what to do, but if I were you I would….”

Not telling me what to do? Really?

The thing about advice is that it assumes you know better. Advice is often given by those who have “been there, done that, and got the t-shirt” – so to speak. And in giving advice, we are sending the message that what we experienced is exactly the same situation, with all the same variables, and – if you do what we did – you should arrive at the same (usually positive) outcome. But that’s not true. Things are not the same, almost all the variables (time, people, circumstances, you) are different and most solutions are not one-size-fits all. Business situations are terribly complex and require innovation, creativity, and problem-solving skills specific to the current challenge. These are not IF/THEN algorithms that anyone can follow. Advice doesn’t always recognize this.

While most advice is given with good intentions, there’s little choice once we receive it. If we follow it, we are good whether things work out or not. If we don’t follow it and the outcome is less than desired, we’re screwed. It makes more sense to just follow the advice and then be absolved if things go sideways because we did what we were advised. Meanwhile, the boss is woefully unaware of micromanaging.

There’s a better way. Instead of advice, offer perspective.

Perspective is humble. Perspective takes away the assumption that we know better. Perspective acknowledges that all variables are different. Perspective is given and received without the weight and expectation of advice. Most importantly, perspective allows the receiver to weigh the variables, consider others’ past experience, and arrive on a course of action without feeling like she’s been given very specific instructions.

If you want to tell your staff exactly what to do, don’t hide it behind the veil of advice – just given an order. But if you want them to grow and learn to think on their own, sharing your experiences and providing your perspective is a much better way.

As the old saying goes: “Give a man a fish (advice), feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish (perspective), feed him for a lifetime.”


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