September 2, 2021
You’ve probably encountered many situations in which you’ve had a strong desire to give another person advice. Your motive may have been one of the following:
These are positive motives. But perhaps you had other motives, such as showing this person you were more knowledgeable. Or perhaps you wanted to demonstrate your ability to spot problems or trends early.
I’ll start this discussion by making a bold statement: Giving advice does not accomplish any of the above. Despite having any or all of the positive motives I’ve listed, giving advice will produce an effect that is the opposite of what you’d probably hoped.
Zenger Folkman identified a database of 577 leaders who’d taken a self-assessment measuring the extent to which they preferred giving advice versus allowing others to discover an insight themselves. Using the self-assessment, we identified 133 who had a strong preference for giving advice. We compared their results to 123 leaders with a strong preference for allowing others to experience independent discovery.
We also collected effectiveness ratings on all of these leaders, with evaluations from managers, peers, direct reports, and others. On average, leaders were rated by 13 different raters. We examined the average rating from all rater groups.
Some may believe that giving others advice would raise other’s perceptions of a leader’s overall effectiveness. After all, doesn’t it demonstrate their knowledge and insights? No, it does not.
To arrive at our conclusion, we measured leaders’ overall effectiveness at utilizing 16 competencies and then looked at the average of those competencies combined.
The chart below compares the overall effectiveness scores for advice-givers with those who allowed discovery. Note that leaders with a strong preference for giving advice were rated significantly lower in their overall leadership effectiveness. (This difference is statistically significant (t=2.538, Sig. 0.012)).
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With the 16 competencies, each leader was rated on 49 behaviors. Only three of the behaviors were rated more positively for those who preferred to give advice, but none of the three were statistically significant. The remainder of the 46 behaviors ranked more negatively for those who prefer to dispense good advice. Twenty-two of the 46 items were found to be statistically significant. We analyzed the top 17 that were highly significant (e.g., 0.02 or lower) and performed a factor analysis to understand the themes of these behaviors to group the results into six themes that describe the negative impact of giving advice, as follows.
Before giving others advice, take time to understand the other party and the challenges they face. Ask several questions to gain further understanding. Resist the temptation to give them your solution. Once you understand the problem, ask them what they would like to do to get it resolved. Then ask them for another solution, and finally, a third. At that point, you might ask, “Would you like to hear a prospective additional thought?” And once you’ve offered your suggestion, invite them to select the solution that will work best for them. They may not select the solution you offered. But in the process of the discussion, they will feel you are concerned, can be trusted, and are interested in their development. This will inspire them as much (or more) than anything else you may have to say.
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