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LEADERSHIP: Why Giving Advice Often Doesn’t Work (very well).

Posted on October 31, 2015 under leadership.

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Before we begin, let me ask all of you to try to remember one thing:   while advice may be fun to give, it’s generally not that much fun to get (think about the last time you were counseled).   FYI, most of the material below is not my intellectual property; it was ‘stolen’ from WSJ articles.

“One big mistake many leaders make is delivering advice instead of constructive feedback. People often think it’s nicer to phrase criticisms more gently by injecting words like: should, would, ought, and try. The problem is that by using these words, your constructive feedback becomes advice. And this only confuses the matter, raises the other party’s defensiveness, and pushes them in the opposite direction of great performance.

Samples of advice include:

  • Personally, I wouldn’t bother the client before noon.
  • If it were me, I’d get started on this right away.
  • Have you tried talking to the client?
  • You should probably make a few extra just in case.

There’s no language in any of the above statements that indicates that the would, should, etc., is mandatory. Trying to trick employees into thinking they have a choice when they really don’t doesn’t make the work any more enjoyable. And if they interpret your feedback as optional, do it their way and it turns out wrong, everyone suffers. If it’s not optional, then don’t imply it is.

By the way, lots of people react perfectly well to constructive feedback. So, we really shouldn’t fear giving it (at least not as much as most people fear giving it). You can test this for yourself with the quiz “How Do You React To Constructive Criticism?”

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There are five core reasons why advice negates the effectiveness of constructive feedback and raises defensiveness. Let’s take a look.

Why Advice Doesn’t Work Reason #1: Judgmental

When you give unasked-for advice, it sends an underlying and very judgmental message: “You’re obviously not as savvy as me because if you were, you’d have already figured out what I’m telling you.” You may not consciously intend to promote this message, but it’s usually what the person on the receiving end hears. And it won’t inspire anyone to become a high performer.

What’s more, if you continually offer unsolicited advice, there’s a good chance people will retaliate and let you know, in no uncertain terms, about your own faults. You may think you’re being helpful, or you may truly believe you know better, but you won’t convince anyone who’s stuck listening to your advice. The person on the other side of your endless stream of “You should…, you better…” is probably thinking, “Who the heck is this bozo to be giving me advice? He should clean up his own mess and then come talk to me.”

Why Advice Doesn’t Work Reason #2: Directive

When you give advice, in essence, you’re telling somebody else what to do. This implies you have all the answers about what works and what doesn’t. But how could you? Chances are you don’t have all the background information on the situation, nor do you understand the other person’s emotions and what makes them tick.

There’s absolutely no constructive value in statements like, “Well, if it were me, I would…” It’s not you, and hearing this kind of advice only puts the other party on red alert that it may be time to check out of the conversation. You asked the employee to partner in dialog, so allow that person to provide additional facts about the situation. Or, if the employee has nothing to voluntarily offer, ask a few questions that prompt responses to fill in the blanks. But be careful. Sometimes the questions we ask are no more than a thinly disguised form of unsolicited advice.

I don’t mean to imply you should never be directive. When you’re a superior telling a subordinate what to do, it’s perfectly acceptable. But even in that situation, you still need to be careful that you’re giving directions—not advice. Because if you give advice, you’re only setting the stage for a terrible dynamic.

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Here’s an example:

Scenario: Boss sees Employee writing a report and says to Employee:

Boss: “I wouldn’t use those colors for that report. I’d go with something brighter.”
Employee: “Sure, okay.”

Later that day, the Employee has finished the report and presents it to Boss.

Boss: “What the heck is this? I told you to use brighter colors.”
Employee: “No, you said YOU would use something brighter. I liked the colors I was already using just fine.”
Boss: “Listen, when I tell you to do something, I just want you to do it.”
Employee: “Then next time, tell me what you want.”

As a superior, you have the right (and obligation) to give directions and make corrections. However, when you phrase it as advice, it sounds more like a recommendation than a directive. And as we’ve seen, that creates a misunderstanding that wastes everyone’s time. If what you need to tell a subordinate is NOT optional, then be honest with them. Don’t play coy and pretend they have a choice when they actually don’t.

Why Advice Doesn’t Work Reason #3: Gotchas

When you give advice, you offer the other party only two choices: take the advice or ignore the advice. And in either case, there’s the possibility of a “gotcha.” If your advice is taken, that means the other person must tacitly admit you’re right and he or she is wrong. This automatically gives you credit for being smarter. That’s Gotcha #1 and it’s a dangerous scenario, one that’s almost guaranteed to create defensiveness.

When advice is ignored, it invites the possibility of an “I told you so.” That’s Gotcha #2. And that can prompt our old friend, the wall of defensiveness, to spring into action and block out the feedback. Even if you don’t outwardly acknowledge the failure to take your advice, the person who passed on taking it may fear you’re insulted. This scenario can shut down the employee from attempting any future discussion on the topic (or any other topic for that matter). And then, there’s always the chance that your constant advice and “gotchas” have you positioned as someone to be avoided.

Why Advice Doesn’t Work Reason #4: Narcissism

Let’s be honest. Sometimes we give advice to demonstrate how smart we are, or because we feel left out or need to be needed. There are even cases where constructive feedback is manipulated to vent anger or to purposely hurt someone. But it’s always done under the thinly veiled guise of trying to be helpful. Before you offer constructive feedback, consider your reasons. If your purpose is not to help someone achieve great performance, you probably want to rethink giving the feedback.

Why Advice Doesn’t Work Reason #5: Unsolicited

Most advice is unsolicited. This means the other party didn’t ask to be judged, corrected, or directed. When you catch someone off guard and hit them upside the head with advice; there’s virtually no chance they’ll be in an open emotional state to hear what you say. Listen, there are many ways to give feedback. Giving advice, though, often makes people defensive, comes off as arrogance or can just seem like a suggestion rather than a command. Constructive feedback can push good employees toward great performance, but advice generally just doesn’t work. And remember,


Craig J McConnell

“Entering Adulthood II”
(Continuing to) Make Sales People Memorable
(striving to) Re-imagine Retirement




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Leaders Do 3 Things Every Day To Strengthen Their Personal Brand

Posted on October 12, 2015 under leadership.


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Ran across  this piece by Glenn Llopis and I thought it was certainly worth sharing; enjoy!

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Personal Branding is a leadership requirement, not a self-promotion campaign. Successful leaders know this and they make it a point to focus on advancing themselves by serving others. According to my organization’s research, less than 15% of leaders have defined their personal brand and only 5% are living it every day. A lot of leaders talk about personal branding, but few hold themselves accountable to take action. This explains why leaders have difficulty reinventing themselves; only 32% of leaders define themselves as being change agents – at a time when every leader must be a change agent or face extinction.

Have you ever asked your employees or clients what they expect from your leadership? Do you know the added-value they want you to deliver every day as a leader?

Leadership is being proactive about discovering the full potential in others through the unique needs of your employees, the business, your clients and external partnerships.   Great leaders get the most out of every situation they are faced with by seeing the opportunity it presents.   They anticipate the unexpected by managing crisis and change before circumstances force their hand.   Their passionate pursuits of excellence open new doors of endless possibilities that they aim to share with others.   Great leaders know what is expected from them and seek to over deliver on it.

Throughout the early stages of my career, my father would always ask me after a day of work:   Did you see possibilities that you didn’t even know existed? If not, keep going, son!   His goal was to make sure that I always took ownership of everything I was associated with.   As I’ve come to learn, this is how the most effective leaders think and what they do when living their personal brand.

As you continue your journey toward developing your personal brand as a leader – remember this: the demand for great leadership already exists – you just need to be courageous enough to take action and be your most authentic self in everything you do and how you do it.   With your focus on strengthening your leadership identity, be more mindful of the following three things in your pursuit of excellence:

1.  Leverage Your Distinction To Make Others Better

Great leaders are in tune to what gives them distinction. They are aware of how they are wired to think, act and innovate. They know what makes them unique from others in their organization and within the industry they serve.   They effectively use their distinction – by knowing when to take action, by elevating the potential of others to help solve problems, and by identifying opportunities previously unseen.

 Leaders that have defined their personal brand know how to leverage their distinction and are not afraid to test their ideas and ideals.   They are the change agents that challenge the status quo by being constructively disruptive. They assure that the leadership culture they create never grows complacent and that those they lead are always exploring endless possibilities. Risk is their best friend.

2.  Over Deliver On What Is Expected

Great leaders know that people expect a lot from them.   They don’t hesitate to ask the people they serve what they expect of their leadership – every day – taking notes along the way.   They train themselves to be more mindful, to hold themselves accountable to what others expect, rather than exercising their power and influence mindlessly over others.

Effective leaders know that you can never go at leadership alone and that their ultimate responsibility is to over deliver on what people expect from them.   They over deliver to silence the skeptics that may doubt their capabilities as a leader.   Leaders that live their personal brands don’t delegate their own responsibilities to others. Instead, they inspire, educate, and lift others to achieve more by stretching their thinking – well beyond the obvious. They help others build self-trust and confidence, expand their expectations – and get discovered along the way.

3.  Elevate Expectations By Consistently Adding-Value

Great leaders never take their success for granted. They aim to be significant by finding new ways to elevate the expectations that others already have of them. Their goal is to continuously add-value to those they serve and their professional relationships.  People build trust and relationships with leaders who are constantly adding value to their careers and lives.   The moment a leader stops adding value, their reputation begins to wane – and their effectiveness as a leader goes with it.

Interwoven within these three aforementioned things that leaders do every day to strengthen their personal brands is the ability to take ownership.   Great leaders know that taking ownership is the difference between wanting to be relevant – and watching your employees, the workplace and the marketplace pass you by.

Defining your personal brand and consistently living it every day can be challenging – and that’s why most people don’t. But great leaders aren’t most people. They know what it takes, which is not self-promotion but self-awareness – about their distinction and how to use it to advance others – and the desire and ability to over deliver on expectations and continually add value for the organization and people they serve.


Craig J McConnell

“Entering Adulthood II”
(Continuing to) Make Sales People Memorable
(striving to) Re-imagine Retirement



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