The Advice Trap
December 8, 2020

Do you fall into The Advice Trap as a leader? Curb your Advice Monster.

By Paul Laughlin

Despite all we have read about leaders needing to have coaching skills, it can be all to easy & natural to fall into “The Advice Trap“.

What do I mean by that term? The giving of advice when what the other person really needs is to think better for themselves. This is the premise behind a wonderfully engaging & accessible book from Michael Bungay Stanier.

Many of my mentoring clients will know that I have for years recommended reading Michael’s last book, “The Coaching Habit“. This book builds on that by addressing our willingness to change. If the first helped leaders learn a few easy questions that can prompt coaching conversations, this book talks to your heart. You may now know how to coach but do you?

Michael is a keynote speaker, bestselling author & founder of Biz of Crayons. As well as a very solid academic background, Michael has hands-on experience in coaching leaders & facilitating groups to think better. This shines through his practical advice that seeks to open up coaching and curiosity to all leaders.

Identifying your Advice Monster, which is your Advice Trap?

One of the great things about this book is all the supporting digital material that Michael has shared alongside it. These include a survey to help you identify which type of Advice Monster you most commonly exhibit. The book helps us understand the behaviours of Tell-it, Save-it and Control-it. Well worth getting your personalised report online.

Just hearing those names probably gives you a visceral experience of what unhelpful behaviour Michael might be highlighting. But, in Part 1 of this book, he does a great job of making the case for why these are a problem. Entitled ‘Tame your Advice Monster‘, it explains how slipping into each of these advice monsters limits others thinking, empowerment & the quality of decisions made.

Another great thing about this book is its size and style. It is pocket-sized, well large coat pockets anyway (only 13.2 x 18.8 cm). Plus, Michael’s style of writing is punchy. Short, impactful paragraphs, sections & chapters. He makes extensive use of Word Art (which reminded me of Tom Peters) & white space – that gives you time to think. He also helpfully prompts you to make personal notes (in the space provided) at the end of each chapter.

Stay Curious just a bit longer – try it

The second part of this book brings to life the longer sub-title of this book. That is: “Be Humble, Stay Curious & Change the Way You Lead Forever“. He structures this section around five masterclasses in putting the theory into practice. It is this core of the book that really helps readers focus on their behaviour & practice, rather than staying theoretical.

For each of those 5 masterclasses, Michael shares the equivalent of a short talk on the principles (but always with human examples). He then follows these with chapters packed with handy tips to try in practice. These have weird and wonderful names, which might help you remember them, and are consistently honest & pragmatic. We learn about 6 Foggy-fiers (that obscure the real challenge), TERA Quotient (that helps others open up) & Monster Litmus tests.

To whet your appetite further, those 5 masterclasses focus on:

  1. Prime yourself for success (get to the real challenge)
  2. Practice to master coaching (and manage engagement)
  3. Build an enjoyable Habit (use it through all media)
  4. Get fast & slow Feedback (spot when your Monster shows up)
  5. Overcome the power of the Dark Side (slipping back into old habits)

Votes for Future-You, not Present-You

In the final, third, part of this book, Michael focuses on mastering your coaching habit. Embedding behaviours that will sustain your practice. As he introduces earlier, this is about delayed gratification & choosing what is better in the longer term. He explains the concept of giving advice (in any of the 3 monster forms) as a vote for Present You. It can appear to answer a question quicker or even gain you praise. However, those are votes for Present-You at the expense of Future-You. Longer-term you want a more capable team & to be someone others know will help them think well.

So, this final part lays bare the heart (or identity) that sustains such a change in behaviour. We need to connect with values & a new identity for ourselves if we are to sustain changes, so it is no surprise to find them shine here.

Michael makes the beautifully simple case for this including:

  • Be generous (give silence, transparency & appreciation)
  • Be vulnerable (be coached yourself & confess)
  • Be a Student (which introduces another brilliant online resource)
  • Be an Advice-Giver (know how to do it well when it is needed)

Michael is naked on-stage are you?

In conclusion (before sharing generous appendices referencing a host of online goodies & warm thanks to those who’ve helped), Michael tells a story. It is about what causes him to be naked on stage doing Synchronised Nude Male Modelling. You’ll have to read the book to understand what that’s relevant.

Suffice to say for now that short section is a plea not just to put that book back on the shelf. I encourage you to also not walk past this book review. Stop right now to consider, are you willing to be vulnerable enough to learn whether you have an Advice Monster problem? Are you willing to be humble, stay curious (and silent) longer? Could it transform your leadership?

If you have been on this journey, please share your experience below. As for me, I plan to put this book into practice (especially as it builds so well on “More Time to Think“. I also plan to start listening to “52 teachers: Your year of living brilliantly” from the start of 2021 (another free online resource from generous Michael & a vote for Future-Me).