Friday, April 18, 2014

on giving advice

Last week I blogged about asking for advice, and the best ways to do that - and since I had recently had the opportunity to ask some of my mentors for advice, it seemed like a timely topic to explore.  During this week, I had the chance to GIVE ADVICE to some of my colleagues, advice that had actually been asked for and solicited (as opposed to the "unsolicited" advice we often give to others).  I think that I am the type of person who would rather ask for advice than give it (I know that might make some of my colleagues laugh), but it actually felt good to give advice to these few people this week.  As I was reflecting on my opportunities to help others (at least I hope that is what I was able to do), I thought I might share a few ideas this week on how to best give advice.  Remember that this is coming from one who would rather receive advice than give it, so while I a not an expert, I believe I have a few things to goes:

  • If not asked directly for advice, always ask permission of the other person if they are willing to listen to your thoughts
  • When asked for advice, take a moment to consider whether or not you should - you may not have an expertise in the areas being asked for, you may be prejudiced in some manner and give less than good advice, or it may not be the best time for the person asking for advice to hear what you want to say
  • Less is more (even when you have more to share)
  • Just as in any good dialogue, use "I" messages
  • Remind yourself - and the person to whom you are giving the advice - that you might be wrong
  • Be as specific as you can...and ask if the person wants specific advice or just wants to think out loud with you on the topic
  • While you may be an expert on the topic, always remain don't know everything
  • Remember that the person asking for advice has just made themselves vulnerable - be careful where you tread during this time
  • Sometimes it might be okay to ask for some time and then to get back with this person - it gives you space to think through your answer
  • The person who asks for advice deserves your best advice - take the time to think through what you are going to say...and only say what you are sure about.
  • If you are in a position of power with this person (i.e. you are their supervisor) you need to be EXTRA careful, because anything you say could be interpreted as  something you want them to do and something on which their performance might be evaluated
  • Before diving into giving advice, ask some clarifying questions...this will allow you to give advice on what they really are asking about, not just on what you think they are asking about
  • Thank them for their willingness to open up to you, and for the opportunity they have given you to think about these issues out loud - giving advice is a learning process for the advice giver as well as the advice receiver
What am I missing?  Feel free to chime in, add your thoughts, and give me and others some advice on how to best give advice.  

A blessed Good Friday to each of you...this is one of my favorite days of the church year as it fully prepares me to understand the joy that comes with the festival of the Resurrection in just a few more days!

Friday, April 11, 2014


There comes a time in people's lives (including mine) when it is important to seek out and receive advice.  When those times occur in my life, I think about those people whom I know and trust...people who have experience in the areas I need advice...and people who will be straight with me, not mixing words.  There are not many of these type of people in our lives, and it is important to build that group over time.  Recently I was seeking advice on an issue and approached several of my trusted's what I did:

  • asked them for a short amount of their time
  • met them on their terms (time and place)
  • clarified the issue for them
  • asked the burning question
  • listened to what they told me
  • told them what my greatest fear was
  • let them assure me or provide ways around/through the fear
  • asked clarifying questions on their advice
  • listened some more
  • thanked them for their time
  • sent a thank you as a follow up
Here's the paradox - the more one "moves up" in their career, the more they are expected to know...the more experience one has, the more they are expected to know...the older one gets, the more they are expected to know...the more titles and degrees one accumulates, the more they are expected to know - and often times they stop asking for advice.  It is at these times when those of us in leadership roles need to realize we know less than we think we do and consistently ask for advice.  Not only do we learn something, the person giving the advice benefits because 1) they get to hear themselves talking about the issue out loud, clarifying their own thoughts; and 2) they feel great being asked for their advice.  EVERYBODY WINS!  So here are my thoughts on how to become the type of person who asks for and gets good advice on a regular basis:
  • Believe you are not the smartest person in the room
  • When you find someone whom you trust and has the knowledge and experience you need, develop a relationship with them over time
  • Never force this type of relationship - if it develops, great...if not, keep them as a colleague and keep trying to find the right person
  • Prior to the conversation, think through the questions you want to ask and get the wording right
  • Invite these people into your life and entrust them with your deepest concerns and fears
  • Be a good listener
  • Don't be a pest
  • Let them ask you for advice every now and then - and be gracious enough to give it to them
  • Follow up with people - they appreciate knowing that their advice actually made a difference
  • And finally...Believe you are not the smartest person in the room
Enjoy the process of asking others for will be amazed at what you learn and how you may soon become the type of person whom others will ask for advice.

Friday, April 4, 2014

in over your head

Two conversations yesterday led me to consider the importance of being "in over your head."  I first interviewed a long-standing faculty at Concordia (41 years), Dr. Larry Meissner, and when I asked him about his journey and how he learned to become the person he is, he kept coming back to people giving him opportunities that he never should have been given - and how he consistently found himself "in over his head."  Later in the afternoon, one of my faculty and I were chatting about an opportunity which could be coming his way - he looked at me and said he felt that perhaps he might end up "in over his head."  Over the past two weeks, I have had conversations with people that I walked away from thinking that if I said yes to what they were asking about, that I too would be "in over my head."  Scary? of course...Possibilities for growth? tremendous!

So here are two lists that might help you 1)get yourself in situations that are "in over your head" and 2) help you manage those projects in which you find yourself "in over your head:"


  • find ways to meet really cool (and really smart) people
  • ask good, open-ended questions
  • shut up and listen
  • never say NO too quickly
  • find possible partners who are willing to explore and create with you
  • do new and cool things yourself
  • be really good at what you do
  • introduce others to one another
  • show up at places you would not normally be
  • ask to be invited to conversations outside your area of expertise
  • keep your contacts and relationships going
  • raise your hand to ask questions and make suggestions

  • remind yourself that great things happen only when people are "in over their heads"
  • learn to enjoy the ambiguity of these types of projects
  • believe that there are people a whole lot smarter than you
  • find those people who are a whole lot smarter than you
  • ask for help from those people who are a whole lot smarter than you
  • find resources to help pay for the time and energy needed to go into these type of projects
  • remember that it is sometimes okay to say NO and pass on certain ideas and projects
  • if no one is going to die, go ahead and's OK to fail
  • take a breath...pause for a moment...enjoy the scenery...and then get back to the project
  • learn to collaborate - projects like this can seldom be accomplished by yourself
  • trust that you have been put into this situation for a reason - God works in mysterious ways
  • consistently check your own purpose for why you might be "in over your head"
  • hang out with others who are ":in over their heads"
Final thought: you may not be the type of person who enjoys being "in over your head."  That's okay...if we all were "in over our heads" we would all drown. There needs to be those who will first put on their own oxygen mask and then place the other one over the person next to them...that's the beauty of collaboration, partnerships, relationships, and friendships.  Maybe your role today is to look for someone you know who is "in over their head" and offer a word of encouragement or the time and expertise to help them in their project.  You never know if by doing that one act of kindness, you might soon find yourself "in over your head" - and if so, I hope you enjoy the swim!