Sep 3, 2009

Leadership and Advice Giving

Samuel R. James, Ed.D.

Recently I posed a question: “What is the best advice you have ever received?” Quickly forty people responded. Many responses were deeply personal. Others were professional, offered by former bosses or teachers and equally appreciated. Some were satirical: “Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and it annoys the pig.” At times the best advice was a teaching moment, at other times it was a mere statement without the advisor knowing his or her impact. Leaders in time-starved work environments overlook the importance of their advice to the people in their charge. In the respondents’ own words, hear the value of the best advice they have ever received.

One group spoke of how advice taught them that excellence must become a personal commitment. “Never become numb,” cautioned his teacher, and do not lose an “open mindedness or an emotional artistic side . . . [it creates] an artist’s sensitivity, empathy, passion, and feelings.” Advice was given about separating pride in one’s work from meeting a client’s expectations: “If pleasing the client is your highest goal, the bar is set pretty low; pleasing clients is easy.” Another was “unburdened” when his boss told him: “. . . not to worry . . . I did not have the authority to make a decision that would wreck the organization or my career; [this advice] freed me to make better decisions faster.” Finally, one woman built a commitment to excellence on football star Jerry Rice’s quotation: “I will do today what others won't so that I can do tomorrow what others can't.”

A second group, challenged to be good managers, focused on the needs of others. Some advice was blunt: “Shut up and listen!” Another was prescriptive: “Management requires patience, tolerance, and forgiveness; control requires none of that. Control your assets; manage your people and processes.” Repeatedly, respondents spoke of listening—“we have two ears and one mouth so listen twice as much as you talk”—or being engaged with their subordinates—“always ask what do you recommend, why, and how will it be accomplished.” Another learned if “you want to progress, help others progress; then hand over your tasks and move on to new ones.” Working with superiors was also noted: “To become a senior member of the organization, learn how to manage your manager.” Finally, good management requires courage: “If everyone is smiling and saying everything is great but there are alarms going off in your head, don't ignore what your eyes and gut instincts are telling you.”

Some were challenged to focus on inner strength: “Try not to become a man of success,” quoting Albert Einstein, “but rather to become a man of value.” “Pursue your interests with passion,” said one, “and do it to the best of your abilities.” This advice provided him with “flexibility, ownership of his tasks, and the acceptance of hard work.” Self-awareness led another to state: “Distress and motivation are directly proportional to expectation. Expectations from others will give you distress; expectations from yourself will give you motivation.”

Regardless of who advised the respondents, the advice was a compass that helped each navigate and map the business terrain—“It is what it is; keep moving forward.”

Think about it. How is your advice supporting others' performance, management, or personal development? You might change a life. © Samuel R. James, Ed.D.

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