Seeking and giving advice are crucial to efficient leadership and decision-making. However, managers do not always see them as useful skills they can acquire and develop. Usually, people consider that receiving guidance is the passive consumption of wisdom and giving advice is more a matter of “good judgment” than a skill to be mastered. “Giving as good as getting back” and vice-versa should be a must for you as leader and a decision maker.
Here are some guidelines coming from a variety of fields (technology, financial services, law, politics, educational administration, consulting, and not for profit) to help you seeking and giving advice.
Stage 1: Finding the right fit.
Seeking advice can be unique and can reflect a distinctive combination of situations, personalities, and events. However, you are often limited by time and you will not want to search and find new advisers in every situation. The best way is to put together a personal “board” ahead of time, including people you respect and value for their judgment, their ability to keep confidentiality, their experiences and for being willing to tell you what you do not want to hear.
Upon selecting an adviser from that board for your immediate needs, define and clarify how you would like this person to help and why.
When you are yourself approached for advice, ask yourself if you really can be a good fit and give time and effort for your seeker’s concerns? Sometimes, it is much better to decline the request than to give inappropriate advice. In addition, you can also consider recommending some other people to bring in new or complementary views.
Stage 2: Developing a shared understanding.
At this stage, you should be able, as an advice seeker, to give just enough information for your adviser to understand the problem you are facing and where you want to end up. This will help your adviser to offer unbiased recommendations without getting lost. So try to be concise when telling details and provide context. Otherwise, you may divert your adviser from the principal issues.
As an adviser, you will need to have a complete and efficient picture from the seeker in sufficient but not unlimited time. Try to create a “safe zone” where you can speak openly to save privacy and confidentiality. Suspend judgment, avoid providing immediate feedback and direction, and listen carefully.
Stage 3: Crafting alternatives.
Decision-making usually involves diverse options that seekers and advisers should work together to come up with more than one possibility.
If you are seeking advice, take an analytic and inquisitive mindset to be able to identify and evaluate multiple choices. Ask pointed questions about the costs and benefits of each choice, the relevance of the advice to your situation, the tactics for implementing the ideas and the repercussions.
If you are the adviser, your definitive goal should be to find the path forward and to enable the seeker to act independently. Describe the ethics that are modeling your advice, along with any experiences you are using as analogies.
Stage 4: Converging on a decision.
When it is time to select between the options to choose a course of action, ask your adviser to play the devil’s advocate. If you remain uncertain, do not hesitate to ask for a second or third opinion at this stage. This can offset any prejudices or conflicts of interest your adviser may have.
If you are an adviser, you should work with the advisee to know everything about the options at hand before making any choice. Explore the most likely outcomes of each possibility, while assessing the relative pros and cons and ensuring that the conversation remains a dialogue rather than a monologue.
Do not forget the follow-up meetings because they are often essential for firming up the advisees’ choices. So make yourself available for clarification and explanation.
Stage 5: Putting advice into action.
As a seeker, you will have to act on the advice you have received and make real-time adjustments. Advice should be treated a cycle of guidance, action, learning, and further guidance and not a fixed path forward.
If you are the adviser, check that it is up to the seeker to move forward and make sure that the decision and the consequences must be recognized as his and not yours. However, remain open to providing additional guidance as events unfold. Especially in rapidly changing situations, even the best advice can quickly become irrelevant.