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What Leaders Can Learn From Giving Advice


When we dole out our sage advice, we tend to think it helps the other party solve their problem. It very well might, but in reality, the advice-giver sees some major benefits as well. The experience of giving advice can be a self-confidence boost, and it helps us test our leadership skills.


When done correctly, giving good, helpful advice can greatly benefit both the giver and receiver.


Increased sense of personal worth

Solid, actionable advice can make the receiver feel empowered, but studies show the reverse is just as true. A study in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that giving advice can positively benefit a person’s sense of self-worth. It can feel really good to give good advice to someone else.


Offering advice when it’s called for could help bolster your sense of self-worth. It’s a tiny confidence boost for leaders who may doubt their abilities. But, that benefit can increase tenfold when the advice that is given is actually taken. And that requires a whole different skill.


Hone listening skills

The best way to know what advice to give? Just listen.


Many times people already know subconsciously how to solve a problem, but it’s only through talking it about that the solution comes to light. As a leader, being able to listen and put yourself in someone else’s shoes might be one of the most valuable tools in your kit. Not only will it help you get to know your team, but it’ll prepare you for things like customer discovery and feedback.


When someone comes to you for advice, here’s how to practice active listening:

  • Make eye contact and connect through body language. Let the other person know you’re truly listening--lean in, and nod to show you understand what they’re saying.

  • Say nothing. Don’t offer advice, opinions, or judgment while the other person is speaking. Let them explain everything before you speak.

  • Keep an open mind. Active listening is all about absorbing information. When you impose personal judgment on what another person is saying, you are no longer listening actively.

  • Encourage depth through questions. If you speak at all, it should be to ask open-ended questions that encourage the other person to dive deeper into their problem.

  • Take your time. Don’t think about what you’ll say next while the other person is speaking--just listen to what they have to say before considering a response. This could lead to pauses and a slower conversation than you’re used to.


When someone comes to you for advice, it’s a perfect time to work on active listening. Just being a nonjudgemental ear for the other person could lead to major breakthroughs for them--oftentimes it can be more valuable than offering advice.


Practice decision-making

There’s an exception when it comes to the “just listen” rule of giving advice. People might come to you for advice on a topic because you’re an expert in the matter. For example, someone in legal trouble might consult a lawyer for their expert advice, or a junior software engineer could go to their manager for help with a bug in the code.


If you have expertise in the subject, your advice could be invaluable. Working through the issue also gives you an opportunity to practice problem-solving and decision making. Studies show the more solutions you have to a problem, the easier the decision making becomes.


Admitting you don’t have all the answers

We’ve all been there. Someone comes to you asking for advice on a topic you aren’t so sure about. It’s natural to want to help this person, even if you’re not the most equipped to do so.


In these situations, it can be incredibly powerful to practice intellectual humility and simply say, “I don’t know.” When you’re willing to admit you don’t have all the answers, giving advice can be a humbling experience. Admitting you don’t know something might sound weak, but in reality, it should be viewed as a strength. Saying, “I don’t know,” opens you up to a teaching moment and can free you from the burden of pretending you know it all (when none of us actually can).


Being a good leader means admitting when you don’t know the answer. When someone comes to you for advice, it could be an opportunity to learn more from those around you, and a sign that you respect your colleague or friend too much to give them less than sound advice.


It’s easy to give advice but rare for people to take you up on it. Dispensing solid advice sharpens your listening skills and strengthens your problem-solving chops. The next time someone asks for help, remember the benefits you’ll reap from the experience too.


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