How to Get Advice You Can Actually Use

the abplatform resource blog how to get advice

Maybe you’ve heard this one before...

Bob loved his 1968 classic Mustang convertible. It was his first true restoration, and he had worked hard to learn everything about her.  So when it came to maintaining her, he knew best. One Saturday morning, he started up the car just to hear it purr. She wouldn’t start!

He lifted the hood and twisted and turned every knob and wire, trying out everything he knew to fix the problem. Little did he know that he was making things worse. Smoke started billowing out, and before he knew it, the car’s engine burst into flames!

As Bob watched his beloved car burn to a crisp, his friend happened to stop by. “I did everything I knew to do to fix it, Bob said. His friend, who happens to be a mechanic, said “There is one thing you didn’t do. Call me.”

What is it about us humans that we don’t like to take advice—or even ask for it? Even when it’s really good advice that might keep us from making stupid mistakes (like burning up a car), we don’t want it. 

Maybe as a CEO, it’s because you’re already getting advice from everyone including Aunt Karen to the barber down the road what you should be doing—and let’s face it, 90% of the time—it’s just not that useful.  We know you’re incredibly smart and that you’ve put your blood, sweat, and tears into your business, so you don’t need yet another person telling you what to do. Right? But let’s think about this for a minute.  

What is Advice Anway?

Probably the first answer that comes to mind is that it’s an idea that someone offers you about what you should do or how you should do something in a particular situation. Well... that’s not entirely true. That’s actually an opinion.  And there’s a big difference between an “opinion” and “advice”. 

You’re probably familiar with the old saying, “Opinions are like arseholes.  Everyone has one and they usually stink!”  An opinion is a view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge. It’s not that opinions are wrong. They are just backward looking, subjective, uninvited, may or may not be right, may or may not be about something you consider important, and based on personal experience.

Advice, on the other hand, is guidance or recommendations offered with regard to prudent future action and is forward-looking, informed, based on expertise or knowledge, specific to a topic you think is important...and it’s requested. 

Why You Might Need Advice

There are two reasons why, as a CEO, you might need to seek out advice. One comes from a place of emotion and the other logic.

First, it’s lonely at the top. The responsibility of owning a business is heavy. You may find your work deeply satisfying, your team amazing, and your significant other sympathetic, but still, the weight is there. Sometimes, you just need the perspective of someone who has walked in your shoes in similar situations to lean on for advice.

Second, no one leader—no matter how smart—can know everything! The business or start-up environment is always shifting, and you are not in charge of a lot of it. In fact, 70% of a unicorn’s success comes from factors outside their control, according to Startup Genome. That’s when advice can offer new ideas for problem-solving. Remember, we each only have a single life experience, so learning to lean on each other’s experiences can help drive success. 

When You Might Need Advice

Let’s go back to Bob and his Mustang. He thought he could fix it on his own but ended up making the problem worse—much worse.  It takes a bit of self-awareness and humility to say, “I need help.” So, when might you need to seek advice? There are several inflection points, like when:

  • You are entering a new market (think Toyota’s upmarket launch of Lexus).
  • You are wondering about selling the business (think Facebook buying Instagram)
  • You need to add new capability to grow the business (think Shopify entering the brick and mortar business) 
  • A new competitor shows up (think Blockbuster when Netflix showed up).

How to Pick the Best Advisors

Not all advisors are created equal. While Aunt Karen might be great at offering advice on how long to cook the Thanksgiving turkey, do you really want her advice on market trends or product expansions?  When it comes to choosing the best advisors, here’s who to look for:

  • Highly-regarded experts with specific experience in the areas you need.
  • Good listeners.
  • Someone who helps you figure out what to do, not someone who tells you what to do.

How to Get Good Advice

Asking for advice can play an integral role in effective leadership and decision-making. However, getting good advice requires a purposeful process.

First, frame the question very specifically, including a clear context and outline of the specific problem or challenge.

Second, ask for a limited response, and give a reasonable but finite time for your advisor to respond.

Lastly, ever heard the saying, “Free advice is worth what you pay for it”? You probably aren’t getting all the facts if you’re listening to someone who doesn’t have all the facts (sorry Aunt Karen). Good advice from trusted advisors gives you access to new insights, empowers you to make informed decisions, and gives you the confidence to take deliberate actions. Not always, but sometimes you need to pay for good advice.

Conclusion

Asking for advice is a sign of good leadership and intelligence—not weakness. Getting advice that you can actually use is a creative and collaborative effort that helps you more self-assuredly navigate the challenges and exciting next chapters of the business you’ve put your heart and soul into.

If you find your business at a pivotal point and think outside advice might be your next step, consider the power of an advisory board. Not only do you get a team of professional heavyweights who offer different perspectives, but the ABPlatform does all the heavy lifting to make it happen. Schedule a Discovery Call today!