Learning How to Take Advice Is Critical
To be effective in your job and personal life, you must be willing to identify your blind spots and recognize when and how to ask for advice. You must seek and implement useful insights from the right people and overcome any immediate defensiveness about your attitudes and behaviors.
Proverbs 15:22 suggests, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” Effective advisers can bridge the gap between your vision of what you want to achieve and implementation of that vision.
There is extensive literature which offers guidance on giving advice (I particularly recommend Gerald M. Weinberg’s The Secrets of Consulting) and being an effective mentor. However, few resources address the equally important topic of using advisers wisely—particularly about when to solicit advice, how to seek trusted advisers, and how to best act upon their advice. Dan Ciampa’s excellent book Taking Advice fills this void.
“How Leaders Get Good Counsel and Use It Wisely”
Drawing from his vast experience as a leadership consultant, Ciampa provides a comprehensive framework for getting and using advice in Taking Advice. He identifies four elements of work and life where you’ll need advice:
- strategic aspects
- operational aspects
- political aspects
- personal aspects
Taking Advice’s most instructive element is the framework it provides for thinking through the kind of advice network you may need. Ciampa suggests that you deliberately build a “balanced advice network” which includes a mix of advisers from whom to seek the most effective advice. He identifies four types of advisers and details their specific roles and purposes:
- the subject-matter experts who can offer you deep specialized/circumstantial knowledge
- the experienced advisers who’ve previously faced similar circumstances or have been in similar positions
- the partners who could engage in working relationships and operate up close or hash out ideas in greater detail for a longer duration
- the sounding boards who proffer a ‘safe harbor’ where you can freely express your mind, discuss your insecurities, seek advice on personal challenges—all while feeling assured that they’ll honor confidentiality and ensure that your discussions remain private.
Providing practical examples, Ciampa describes three considerations for selecting the right advisers and forming strong relationships with them:
- content: the adviser must possess the kind of expertise you’re looking for
- competence: the adviser must have direct experience in your context
- chemistry: the adviser must be compatible or sympathetic with the style and substance of your goals, targets, and mindsets
To derive the most help from advisers, Ciampa recommends techniques for productive advise-seeking:
- Listen, understand, and accept feedback without becoming defensive
- Seek advice as quickly as possible when facing challenges
- Anticipate roadblocks and involve advisers in planning for contingencies
- Avoid “yes-men” for advisers; do not bar opinions which may clash with or defy your own
Idea for Impact: Become a Good Advice-Seeker
Ciampa draws heavily from his leadership consulting experience and provides case studies of a few large companies’ senior leaders who, by virtue of their position, often feel insulated and isolated at the top. Nevertheless, his examples will benefit anyone seeking advice.
Recommendation: Read. Taking Advice offers important insights into a seemingly obvious dimension of leadership success, but one that’s often neglected, poorly understood, or taken for granted.
The comprehensive and practical framework discussed in Taking Advice will help you find the right kind of help from within and beyond your organization, get the most from your advisers, and deal effectively with emergent situations in your life and at work.
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