I consider myself in most cases an adviser to my business clients and can fully understand with what this writer is talking about. My view of my role is really to enable my client to have all the options available to make an informed decision. Whether that decision is right or wrong is not mine to judge as I am not the decision maker. What is important is the decision was probably the best in view of all the options presented for consideration.
Fence Sitter — A. R. Samson
Giving advice often comes with risks of being ignored or engendering resentment on the advisee. It is not always because of insecurity that leaders are averse to receiving unsolicited advice from subordinates or peers, although the lofty ones do not consider anyone in the latter category, not even former classmates.
It is sometimes how the advice is given. It can easily sound like proffered wisdom, intellectual crumbs thrown by a superior intellect deigning to explain the way things work to a novice. The aura of expertise is seldom ever masked.
A leader tries to project an image of control. He does not want to look like a puppet whose strings are being pulled by advisers, especially those who don’t bother to hide the strings. Karl Rove in the time of “W” was not embarrassed to be referred by media as “Bush’s Brain,” implying that the advisee did not have one. When seen too often at a leader’s side, advisers advertise their clout, publicly whispering to the receptive ears — Sir, your fly is open. Things that turn out well are claimed to have benefited from the adviser’s counsel. Disasters only illustrate advice not having been heeded.
Leaders can throw off arrogant and, in the end, irritating advisers by consigning them to the doghouse, pointedly excluded from closed-door meetings. They are publicly castigated as bad-news bearers just to make the point that they are not sacred cows. Sometimes, they claim to be behind every move the leader makes, even when they only find out about developments afterward in the news.
An adviser needs to advice. He moves in the orbit of the planet he is supposed to be influencing. He has to know how to behave appropriately.
When asked for an opinion, he should pause before replying. Quick answers are viewed as shallow and not well thought out. It’s best to rephrase the question, nod, and say something cryptic — there are other dimensions to this issue. If there is a group around the leader, an eager beaver is likely to jump in with a silly remark. With the debate raging, someone else is bound to give a useful idea which can be grabbed in a summary of points.
On a one-on-one with the leader, poaching ideas is not possible. It is best to give anecdotes and try to see what ideas strike the leader as interesting. There is seldom a need to give a straightforward answer to any question, unless asked for one’s birthday. Watching a game beside the revered one, it is good to focus on the half-time cheers and nod the head to the rhythm of the drums as if tuning to his body clock. From a distance such body language seems to be the receiving of instructions, especially when the head is tipped to the side of the leader who is texting somebody else.
It is not good to offer only one option, like sacking somebody, even if it is a person at the top of the hate list. It is preferable to present an analysis of the situation and the implications of certain options — true, he seems to be indispensable with the ongoing project. He’s good, but is he still a hundred percent on your side?
If a controversial suggestion needs to be made, like getting rid of a relative or classmate the leader is fond of, or a pet project that needs to be drowned in the bathtub, it is best to test the waters for a reaction and present the possibility as a rumor in the grapevine, somebody else’s suggestion, or something that should not even be considered. Checking reactions to an offensive idea leads the adviser to the acceptable path.
Should an adviser volunteer a suggestion even if he is not asked? No, but he can create the situation for it — I don’t really want to comment on those coffee mugs. This surfacing of a topic which is not even on the radar screen can elicit a question from him — what coffee mugs are you talking about?
Never put advice on e-mail. This is sure to be forwarded to the object of scorn with a little twist of the knife — what do you think? Also, e-mails can’t really be deleted, and neither can the threads on the digital discussions no matter how long ago and irrelevant. Digital trash-talking resides in the ether and can be fished out by cyber-detectives to nail you later.
Advisers seldom influence a leader on a consistent basis. It is still the leader who decides which advisers to keep and listen to and which advice to follow. Anyway, the supply of advisers and their advice far outweighs the demand for them.