Don’t Fall into the Advice Trap!

by Marshall Goldsmith

Michael Bungay Stanier is the senior partner of Box of Crayons, a company best known for its coaching programs that help organizations do less Good Work and more Great Work. Michael recently ranked as one of the top 8 coaches in the world, has written two books which have sold close to 600,000 copies, The Coaching Habit and Do More Great Work.

This week, Michael and I talk about one of the patterns of leadership behavior that needs to shift, Michael calls it the Advice Trap. Learn more about this trap to avoid in the excerpt from our interview below.

Marshall: Michael, I love what you’re doing because you’re really focused on avoiding something called “The Advice Trap.” Tell me what you mean by that.

Michael: Sure. So, there’s a pattern of behavior that we need to shift. Leaders of the past were very good at downloading knowledge and expecting it to cascade down the organization. That just doesn’t work anymore. What we’re looking to do is shift behavior so people stay curious a little bit longer and rush to action and advice giving just a little bit more slowly.

It’s not to say never give advice. What we’re trying to shift as a basic behavior, is can people stay curious just a little bit longer?

There are three reasons why advice giving doesn’t work anymore.

Typically, the problem that you think is the problem isn’t really the problem, because the first problem that somebody comes to you with is just the first thing that’s come to mind. It’s a symptom. It’s their best guess at what the real problem is.

The second challenge is even if, let’s say, they’ve come to you with the exact problem, they’ve defined it perfectly, almost certainly your advice, as the leader or as the manager, isn’t nearly as good as you think it is. It’s your best guess. You’ve made it up. I’ve heard you say before, if you as the leader know more about, let’s say, marketing than the person who’s doing the marketing, you have a real problem there.

Now, let’s say a miracle has happened. Not only do you have the right problem, and you have a brilliant idea that is an outstanding solution to the challenge. The third challenge, and this is perhaps the most dangerous, is this is not potentially good leadership. Because even if you have the best idea, is that the best form of leadership in the moment?

What’s more important, you being right, having the best idea, or giving the person you are leading the opportunity to come up with their own idea, doing their own thinking and claiming ownership of their own insight.

Alan Mulally is an inspiration for this – if anybody role models this ability to be the leader, stand aside, and let other people find their solutions, it’s Alan. He’s a real champion for that piece around ‘even if I know the answer, is it really the best move for me to give the answer?’ Part of Alan’s philosophy of leadership is to resist giving the answer as long as possible until it’s the right moment. Because there becomes a moment where it is the right time for you to give advice.

Marshall: I love it. My friend David Ulrich taught me that effectiveness and execution is functional. A, what’s the quality of the idea? And B what’s my commitment to make it work? What I love about what you just said is we can become so fixated on trying to provide an answer that’s much better. Even if we do improve the quality, we may damage their commitment much more.

So always ask, is this going to improve this person’s commitment? And then is it worth it? Fantastic. Thank you.

Fore more on Michael Bungay Stanier Visit:

Michael Bungay Stanier, Founder of Box of Crayons

At Box of Crayons we enable stronger people and stronger performance.
Our programs embed coaching for manager excellence and leadership development,
and we help move cultures from advice-driven to curiosity-led.

The Coaching HabitWSJ bestseller, is the best-selling coaching book on Amazon,
with more than half a million copies sold and 1,000+ 5-star reviews.

The Advice Trap drops February 29, 2020.





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