Seeking and Giving AdviceA recent Harvard Business School newsletter summarized research from David Garvin, the C. Roland Christensen Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, and Joshua Margolis, professor in the Organizational Behavior unit at Harvard Business School. They point out that effective leaders need good advice and need to give useful advice to others. “Yet business executives aren’t always making the most of advice — on both the giving and the receiving end — because they may not realize that it involves skills that can be learned and refined.”

Some leaders can appear indecisive and uncertain in looking for too much advice and get rated poorly in their leadership effectiveness. Others march forward overly confidently and rarely ask for advice. They’re also rated lower in leadership effectiveness. More balanced leaders in the middle are rated highest in their effectiveness.

Garvin and Margolis identify three key mistakes leaders make in seeking advice:

  • Choosing the wrong advisers, particularly by turning only to those with like-minded ideas, rather than seeking out people who will provide a devil’s advocate point of view.
  • Defining the problem poorly, either by taking the conversation to unrelated tangents or by omitting key information that might cast the advice-seeker in a poor light.
  • Misjudging the quality of the advice they are given.

This aligns with our experience on leader’s seeking feedback and advice on their leadership effectiveness. It’s also why 360 multi-rater assessments can be so useful.

Giving advice is a key function of training, mentoring, or managing performance. Extraordinary coaches refrain from advice giving and guide conversations so the answers are drawn from the coachee through a skillful coaching conversation that expands everyone’s understanding of the issue and possible solutions.

Three advice-giving mistakes identified by Garvin and Margolis are traps many aspiring coaches too easily fall into — especially misdiagnosis:

  • Communicating the advice poorly.
  • Misdiagnosing a problem, either by prematurely believing you see similarities with issues you have faced or by neglecting to ask the kind of probing, relevant questions that will get to the heart of the matter.
  • Giving self-centered guidance.

If you want to know more, my advice to you is to read “Advice on Advice“.