George Burns, the popular cigar smoking comedian of the WWII and Baby Boomer generations (yeah, I know, I’m dating myself), had this to say about advice:
Too bad that all the people who really know how to run the country are busy driving taxi cabs and cutting hair.
He’s right. Sit in any barbershop on a busy Saturday morning and you’ll learn how to fix the government, which coach ought to be fired and which quarterback ought to be starting. You will also learn which is better, Chevrolets or Fords, and where to go for the best fried chicken (The Chicken House, New Albany, IN). Preachers can learn how to improve their sermons (shorter is better) and you’ll hear spirited debate about the virtues of John Deere (for real farmers) versus those “foreign” brands like Kubota (hobby farmers). Generally speaking, the barbershop mantra is “If I want your advice, I’ll give it to you.”
Eugene Peterson, paraphrasing Proverbs 15:22, says, “Refuse good advice and watch your plans fail; take good counsel and watch them succeed.” The problem? It’s easy to get advice; not so easy to get good advice.
There are times, lots of times, when we all need advice. We are facing a hurdle, or an opportunity, and we aren’t quite sure what to do. We may have an idea and need confirmation, or we may have no idea at all. In either case, someone asks us, “Have you talked to…?”
An overall principle for seeking counsel is the old adage, consider the source. Here are some questions about the source that I ask:
Are they speaking from first-hand experience, not just theoretical or academic knowledge? I want to talk to people who have been on the front lines of leadership.
Do they have a personal agenda? Be careful if they have something significant to gain or lose.
Have they experienced some failure? The road to humility always has a failure marker or two. The best counsel will come from someone who is genuinely trying to help, not impress.
Do I know them personally? If I don’t, I seek input about them from people I do know and trust.
Are their values consistent with mine? Do they live and lead their organization in a way I am comfortable with?
A few concluding thoughts:
Getting a second—and third—opinion is always a good idea.
“Don’t do this” advice is often a lot more valuable than “do this” advice.
Don’t act on any advice that gives you a queasy feeling in your stomach.
In the end, you are responsible for the outcome. Gather as much input as you can; make the best decision you can; then man-up and accept responsibility for the results.
"The best way to lead people into the future is to connect with them deeply in the present."
Kouzes & Posner