Why I don’t want your advice

Forget all I have advised you in the past years“, my boss says in our last meeting on my last day of work “and just continue doing what you think is right. You will need it where you are going.” I am smiling. He is smiling.

The past years, I have been some sort of a troublemaker in his department – in the best sense of the word. I brought in new ideas, conducted trainings in project management for the colleagues, started cooperations with HR and delivered some projects despite adversity. But I didn’t blend in with the colleagues who just wanted to do their job. He advised me from time to time so that I might fit in – and I really tried hard to meet the advice.

Eventually, I changed jobs and went into a leadership position in another company. And this was when my boss said that the advice given had been true for the current environment and role but wasn’t helpful for my next step.

I have deep respect for this former boss of mine, as he totally knew what type of job he wanted to do. He even declined offered promotions because he just loved the job he was in. He could give very good advice on how to act and behave if one would like to blend into the department. And at the same time, he was at ease when he saw that people wanted something else in their professional life. He knew which advice was needed in which situation.

But this open mindset is rare. Usually people just start giving unreflected advice based on their perception of life without getting the perspective of the mentee. I have often seen this with older employees advising younger colleagues. Although this is not bad in itself, it needs to be questioned with what type of mindset one advised the other.

Overall, people don’t like seeing others outgrow themselves in their career. This is when you hear ‘you are too young for this’ or ‘you need at least 20 years of experience to do xy’. Those sentences are not the truth. They are just rooted in a weak identity of a professional who has 30 years of working experience and this number is all that person can bring to the table.

So, there are two sides in this advising game:

  1. The person giving advice
  2. The person receiving advice

How to give advice

Advice must be wanted. Before giving advice, just ask if that person willing to listen to you. And if it is a ‘no’ – it is fine.

If you are in a leadership position – especially in middle management – keep in mind that you will have people in your team who will outgrow you. That is normal, necessary and healthy. Think of the possibilities if members from your team, who actually like you, are in high management positions. It will have a return effect on you, too.

Hence, advice must be rooted in the urge of developing the other person and letting him/her grow according to the full potential. If you start advising based on your own insecurities, you are diminishing the success of the other person.

Check your heart: how do you feel if that person outgrows you?

Outgrowing can be in hierarchy level in your company, a higher paycheck, more favour with the boss or clients etc.

Often you will feel a little stitch in your heart when you think of this possibility because it means that there is some potential you did not fully acquire. But once you put this feeling aside and you realize that you can have a positive impact on someone’s life, you might be able to joyfully give good and solid advice.

How to receive advice

Advice must be wanted. Therefore ask for advice – but be picky.

Look for people who do now, what you want to do one day. Think ahead – 10, 20 years – and look for people in that age and check on their careers and lives. Talk to them over coffee, get to know them and understand how they are thinking. Question what they are saying and draw your own conclusions.

Being picky doesn’t mean to be arrogant. If someone offers unasked advice, just be polite and say ‘thank you’. But if the person who is advising you, is not where you want to be, stop acting towards that advice. Maybe you really need to change places to get into the environment where you can continue growing.

It is true: Advice given from the right person at the right time is great. It can catapult your career from good to great.

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