Jessica Soroky Guest Post #20: The Power of Giving Choices Instead of Advice

The ability to give choices instead of advice has been one of the most powerful leadership tools I have been exposed to.

When someone comes to me for help, I have always loved being the person with the answers. It’s a sort of rush to feel like I was helpful.

When I first started my mentorship I couldn’t understand why when I turned to my mentor for an answer his response was never a simple “Insert answer here.”

Instead, he works through a problem with me. He asks questions and offers insight to multiple different approaches to handling the problem.

To this day, there are moments when I’m so far below the line that all I want is to be handed the answer on a silver platter.

He taught me very quickly that when I give advice and it works out, that person doesn’t grow and will just come back seeking more advice the next time he or she has a problem. I will become their crutch. Worse yet, if the advice fails, then I’m the first target for their blame.

“Instead of offering advice, give three to five options and allow them to choose their path,” he offered.

Refraining from giving advice is harder than it may seem. I thought I had mastered it, and then I started a new job with all new people in a new position.

I won the contract after completing an “audition” interview where I had to run a retrospective for 20 minutes with my potential team-to-be. After my demo was complete, they allowed the team members to ask me anything. Instantly I was asked for advice. “We oftentimes can’t complete all the testing for a story card in the sprint it was played in. We don’t know how to handle claiming the story points, what should we do?”

My gut reaction was to tell them the approach I believed would give them the best results, but I had to flex my slow-thinking muscle and pause before I responded. “Let me first answer that question by saying I don’t give advice, so I won’t tell you what you should do. What I can offer you, though, is a few different ways that situation can be handled.”

I went on to give them a few different choices, including the one I thought would work the best.

When I accepted the contract and started in the following weeks, I got to experience a team dynamic I had yet to encounter. I entered an existing team full of people that had been working together for months, even years for some, and I was supposed to join them in a leadership role. The urge to offer advice has been even greater being a new person to the team. My counter-intention to want to win them over often tries to overtake my intention to not give my advice.

I can’t say that I have never given in to my urge to “help”, but when I offer options and allow for my team members to grow, the feeling I get is so much greater than the feeling I get when I offer advice and feel like I helped them.

It has become addicting to watch those around me grow and to know I didn’t get in their way.
And then it hit me, the reason I have gotten where I am today is because my mentor was willing to get out of my way and allow me to choose my own path.

All at once I got clarity on all the previous conversations with my mentor when I had only wished he would supply me with the answer I was looking for. I felt silly for being so frustrated when I was unaware of what he was trying to do.

With my eyes open now, I can see the gift I was given. From the moment I first came into contact with someone who practices choice so adamantly, I have been exposed to so many things and given the ability to choose the direction I want to take.

It’s so powerful to realize that everything in my life is the way it is because I made a choice.

Even when I previously sought out advice and received it, I made the choice to follow it. With that clarity, I see now that the blame is unnecessary. I get to own my own reality!

By avoiding giving advice and focusing instead on exposing my team to options then allowing them to choose, I give them the opportunity to own their own reality as well. What a powerful way to impact a team.

Another common way I have seen teams access this power is implementing a pull system for story cards. When a project manager, scrum master, or any type of team leader assigns work to an individual, it oftentimes leads to feelings of obligation and resentment.

When instead you allow team members to pull the cards they want to work on from the sprint backlog, they mentally own the work more and the quality increases. The same effect of mental ownership can happen on a grander scale when you practice eliminating advice altogether.

Can you challenge yourself this week to stop giving advice and start offering options? Empower your team to own their choices and therefore own their reality.

Jessica Soroky, CSM
Only 21 years old, Jessica is already a Certified Scrum Master with two years of practice in agile delivery and team leadership. She is also the youngest participant in The Leadership Gift™ Program and its growing worldwide community of leaders and coaches. After five years of non-profit development through Nellie’s Catwalk for Kids, Jessica continues her leadership journey in state government, not-for-profit, and private sector leadership studies.

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Posted in Leadership on 01/22/2014 06:09 am
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