My friend Richard Guha is one of those people I’m extremely grateful to know. He’s a former F100 CEO for Reliant Energy and others, Board Director, and Executive in & out of Residence, advising CEOs & CXOs. This post of his strikes a chord with my experiences, both as a consultant and somebody seeking advice. What’s your experience? Do you think he’s on to something?
“People are not likely to accept advice and act on it.
I have spent many years mentoring, coaching and advising yet still find that many people run away from the help. So I try harder and they run away faster. Why is this? There are many reasons why we are really poor at learning from advice and feedback. Most people who leave a job voluntarily do for lack of feedback, most mentoring programs of start-ups have limited success, and corporate advisors complain that they have limited impact. This is as relevant to a member of a Board of Directors as to a mentor of a start-up. I have done both, as well as coached individuals, very many times, and want to pass on what I have learned. Among these are the following:
We hate change.
As Alan Deutschman pointed out in Fast Company, there is hard scientific data to support this and explain why. http://www.fastcompany.com/52717/change-or-die
The Dunning-Kruger effect describes a research backed finding that people who are unskilled in any area tend to over-estimate their competence http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect , while those who are highly skilled, tend to under-estimate theirs. Most people are not skilled in all the areas they are working in. So, a start-up founder is probably not an expert in doing so. It takes years of doing one thing to acquire real skill in it. Watching “Law & Order” will not make you a detective or prosecutor. It always amazes me when I really dig deeply into many professions, such as teaching or law, how much real skill has taken years of thoughtful practice to learn.
While Malcolm Gladwell popularized the work of K. Anders Ericsson to say that you need 10,000 hours of concentrated practice to become good at anything, the original work is more nuanced http://projects.ict.usc.edu/itw/gel/EricssonDeliberatePracticePR93.pdf but still emphasizes the role of time and practice to become expert.
While mentoring and advising are attempts to short-circuit these barriers, people are not naturally good at accepting mentoring. However, it can be learned. As Doug Stone and Sheila Heen, who teach at Harvard Law school have shown http://youtu.be/t2d_O77F8-I. People want feedback, but only of the positive kind – appreciation. If they get this, then they usually switch off to further coaching. However, if they get criticized, they have hurt feelings and reduce the pain by not listening any more. Few people really like getting blunt feedback and this means that much mentoring, coaching or advice is wasted.
As someone who has coached individuals, advised large corporations and mentored start-ups for over 40 years, I have learned a few lessons to improve effectiveness. These are simple sounding, but not easy to implement. Many people think that they can simply mentor, coach or advise based on theirs skills, but do not recognize that these require a completely new set of skills.
* Make sure that the mentee understands that you have their best interests at heart.
* Agree structure beforehand so that the emotion is minimized.
* Make it a non-threatening dialog, so that the mentee is also providing feedback and tells the mentor what they accept and what they don’t. This should be recognized as a way to make the advice more relevant and meaningful.
* The coach has to make input brief. “Sound-bites” are essential. People do not listen well in long stretches.
* Use “active listening.” First developed by Carl Rogers, this should be used by both advisor and the person receiving advice. The mentor has to engage in a dialog so that the mentee reacts, responds and shows that the help has been internalized. The mentee also has to have the opportunity to modify the advice working with the mentor to do so.