Giving Advice – Ready, Fire, Aim

Giving Advice - Ready, Fire, Aim

I don’t think any leader would say they follow ready, fire, aim. And yet, in reality, every leader does this. Let me explain. When we are faced with someone asking for help, our tendency is to want to help them. This involves listening to the problem and then providing advice. So how is this, ready, fire, aim? We are so keen to help and share what we know, we don’t fully understand the problem. And then our chances of hitting the target are low.

The ‘Advice Monster’

Michael Bungay Stanier, in his excellent book ‘The Advice Trap‘, describes our ‘Advice Monster’. It is our tendency to want to help and solve the problem by giving advice. Michael encourages leaders in this situation to stay curious, and resist the urge to give advice. We do this by asking questions. I remember Andy Grove, who was a prodigious questioner saying, ‘When you think you know the answer, ask one more question’.

What questions can you ask? Here are a few suggestions:

  • What haven’t you told me that I should know?
  • What else?
  • What is a good outcome for you?
  • How can I help?

There are many others that will come up in the context of the conversation.

How to practice

When we teach leaders how to coach, we ask them to practice by only asking questions for the first 10 minutes of the conversation. For many, this feels like an eternity given their tendency to give advice, and their desire to ready, fire, aim. Give this practice a try and see how you do. Don’t worry about not having the right questions. Simply focus, be present and the questions will come. I suspect your questions will uncover some important insights, and who knows, they might solve their own problem.

Comments (6)

This is wise.
For the man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.
It’s truly challenging to see how helpful you can be with as few words as possible.

Thank you Franz, I like that. How helpful can you be with as few words as possible.That’s a perfect mindset!

Great insight Andy. Even after many years, I also find this applies to my marriage. Maybe it’s just me, but especially husbands want to “fix it” right away. I’ve done this instead of listening — really listening to make sure that I understand if I’m being asked to solve a problem, or just know what they’re experiencing.

So true Randy, the urge to ‘help’ is very appealing and can lead us to completely miss the mark.

In a book I’m reading I found the sentence “we hope our skills lie in helping to liberate their expertise” (The Unconscious at Work)
What this idea is reminding me of, is that we can choose our attitude: do we base our help on our competence or on our skills?
This might allow for a “first” question: What type of help are you seeking from me?

Thank you for sharing this insight. It is great we can choose our attitude, even though at times it might not seem possible. We always have a choice. 🙂

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