Advice for Those Who Believe They Give Great Advice

September 2, 2021

Some Advice for Those Who Think They Give Good Advice

Advice for Those Who Believe They Give Great Advice

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:

  1. I wanted to show the person I truly cared.
  2. I thought the advice would help the person develop.
  3. I thought my suggestion would help improve their performance.
  4. I wanted to be a better coach.
  5. I was trying to improve their ideas by giving them another perspective.
  6. I hoped I could inspire and motivate this person.

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.

Overall Leadership Effectiveness

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)).

Leadership Effectiveness of those who prefer giving advice and those who allow discovery

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Impact Of Advice Giving

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.

  1. Shows less concern for others and is less trusted. Those who had a strong preference for giving advice were rated significantly lower on their concern for others, their interest in staying in touch, and the level to which they were trusted by others as compared to those with a strong preference for individual discovery. Advice was often perceived by others as a leader’s attempt to prove their intelligence and experience or require things be done “their way” rather than a demonstration of interest and concern for others.
  2. Less interest in receiving feedback from others or willingness to change. Those with a strong preference for giving advice were rated much lower on actively looking for feedback and willingness to change based on feedback from others. People felt the leaders who allowed discovery were significantly more willing to create an atmosphere of continual development and improvement.
  3. Less effective at developing others, coaching, and giving feedback. The motive for many people who give advice is to help others develop, but their significantly lower ratings are a tell-tale sign this is clearly not the way the message is being received. Just as those who prepare to teach a class learn more than their students, strong leaders who develop others spend a great deal of time listening and supporting others in their personal discovery as opposed to telling them what to do.
  4. Discourage new ideas and approaches. In our research, we found that leaders with a stronger preference for giving advice were rated significantly lower on encouraging others to consider new options and tended to get stuck in a “one right way” approach. Rather than improving on the ideas of others, they discouraged them. In a nutshell, those who gave advice were much more interested in their own ideas than those of others.
  5. Less effective at inspiring and motivating. Some people have imagined that once they give others their advice, the recipients will be inspired and motivated because their advice is so amazing. In reality, when someone gives advice, others are usually only passively or politely interested. Most inspired ideas come from discussions, not lectures. In order to inspire others, we need to understand their concerns, frustrations, and passions. This understanding comes from leaders who listen much more than they talk.
  6. Less effective at communicating. Even though advice-givers frequently had much more to say, they were rated significantly lower at helping others to understand, and also received lower scores on their ability to communicate insights. This is a result of their lack of understanding of the perspectives, needs, and concerns of others. Those with a strong preference for giving advice are communicating from their own perspective, the study revealed, and have little concern for the perspective of others.

Advice For Advice Givers

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.

—Joe Folkman
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