I Don’t Want Your Advice … until I ask for it!

I Don’t Want Your Advice

Unsolicited advice or feedback is always for the benefit of the giver, not the receiver.


Think about it. How did you react the last time someone gave you unsolicited advice or feedback – in the office or out in the big mean world – that started with “You should…” or “You need to…” or “Have you tried…”  or “Did you think about…” or “If you just…” ad infinitum?

Did you immediately think “What a great idea! Why didn’t I think of that?” Or did it sting a little bit and you wished the other person would keep their opinions to themselves?

I’m in the latter category but am trying to get better at remembering the giver is only trying to help.

You see, giving the advice makes the giver feel better about themselves because they’re trying to help us (or tear us down because they’re a jerk). Either way, they feel better, and we generally feel worse.

In life, it’s usually our mothers who are full of unsolicited advice.

But at work, we’re surrounded by people who are pretty sure they could help by offering an unasked-for suggestion. Thankfully, only those at or above our level on the food chain have the gonads to speak up and give us advice or feedback they think we’ll follow.

And the funny thing is, while most people are perfectly willing and able to give unsolicited feedback at the drop of a hat, when we honestly want some feedback about self-improvement or advice on overcoming a roadblock we’ve run into, getting solicited, constructive feedback or suggestions is like pulling teeth.

Ok, it’s look in the mirror time, folks. If you identify with either the giver or receiver of unsolicited feedback, read on.

If you’re perfectly happy shooting advice from the hip and taking pot shots from your boss and coworkers (or your mother), you need a kind of help I can’t offer.

First of all, I recognize that feedback and advice (aka helpful suggestion) aren’t the same thing. One is information and the other is a recommendation. Both should be intended to be helpful, but the delivery is often so badly mangled, the receiver gets no benefit.

Look, feedback is not a four-letter word. We shouldn’t dread giving or receiving it, and there are some best practices for both that you already know. What we tend to forget is giving and receiving effective feedback are leadership skills that have to be honed and practiced intentionally.

For starters, go back and read Kevin B’s Effective Feedback in Today’s Crazy Times in February’s At C-Level. Kevin reminds us, “Feedback is [simply] information provided to another person to help him or her grow and improve.” And the feedback you’re giving has to be either requested or expected for it to be useful. Unsolicited and unexpected feedback or suggestions almost always generate negative emotions in the receiver, and when that happens, you’ve lost your audience.

I’m only trying to help” is not a justification (or excuse) for blindsiding someone.

Helpful suggestions follow the same pattern. If the advice hasn’t been requested (effective leaders actually do ask for feedback from others), then the only way it will be received in an ‘expected’ way is if you preface what you want to say with something like: I have some ideas; would you like to hear them? If the answer is no, zip it and walk away.

And don’t think disguising your unsolicited helpful suggestions as feedback sandwiches makes them more palatable. Feedback sandwiches are an idea whose time is long past. Receivers who don’t recognize a feedback sandwich usually miss the important information in the middle and leave the conversation focused on the bread. Those who recognize the sandwich dismiss the bread as fluff and interpret the meat in the middle as criticism.

Hardly the intention of the giver.

So, let’s stop with the unsolicited advice. When we’re about to open our mouths with some “helpful” information, let’s pause to consider how the message is going to be received. Let’s remember how it feels to be the recipient of unasked-for (and usually unwanted) suggestions.

That’s a leadership skill that has to be practiced.

But that’s up to you, leader.

DEI is DOA …and we killed it!

DEI is DOA …and we killed it!

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed here are that of the author. Caution: some of you may agree with them.

Some of you may be offended by this. Me saying sorry you’re offended probably won’t make you feel any better.

It’s a good bet that you and I have different ideas about the goals of well-intentioned DEI efforts, how they should be measured, and the benefits they can bring an organization. And I would argue that’s a good thing; after all, that’s what diversity of thought is all about.

But we have absolutely ruined what diversity, equality, and inclusion policies were meant to bring to the workplace by the heavy-handed and ham-fisted way we’ve shoved them down people’s throats.

And we wonder why people aren’t embracing what should have already existed in the organization… as if the unreceptive employees are heretics who should be burned at the stake.

Obviously, something set me off and, as usual, it was another close encounter with a friend who’s struggling in a business turned upside down by a new CEO top-down driven DEI agenda. After the swift exodus of high-performing talent who didn’t like to be told what they had to believe, there’s yet another new CEO who’s left to hold together a business that may not survive.

Probably not the goal of the DEI-focused CEO.

Let’s dissect this DEI, shall we? It used to be diversity, equality, and inclusion and has evolved somewhat (unfortunately, in my opinion), so let’s take each part as it has to do with your BUSINESS. That’s right, a change in your business, not society.

DIVERSITY: We have always believed that when reasonably intelligent, well-intentioned people with the company’s best interests in mind have a difference of opinion and are able to have an adult conversation about it – no matter what they look like – it’s good for the company. This is the essence of diversity of thought. And for it to be part of your culture, it has to be promoted and practiced at the very senior levels of leadership.

Group-think is a virus that grows quickly in an organization and usually dooms it to failure. A group of old white men can group-think just as easily as a rainbow-colored group of men and women who are hesitant to raise their voice in dissent around the boardroom table.

Deny it and you’re lying to yourself.

If you want more physical diversity in your organization, you have to hire differently than you have in the past. Plain and simple.

But that doesn’t mean lowering hiring standards! No, you need to expand your recruiting pool, create programs (internships) that attract talent, and invest in programs that develop the kind of future talent you’re looking for to lead your company in the coming years.

That’s what we should have been doing all along.

How about EQUALITY? Equal compensation for equal value to the company? Equal opportunity to advance in the organization for qualified individuals? Of course it should be that way! It should have always been that way. The best way to make sure that happens is to have a system of checks and balances to review both; you probably have perfectly capable people to do that already. I added that last bit because you don’t have to hire a slew of self-proclaimed DEI “experts” to do the job. Just don’t leave it in the hands of a single individual or you invite (and encourage) bias and favoritism into the process.

EQUALITY does not mean EQUITY! Equity has come to mean giving a few smaller pieces of the pie so others get more. And I don’t even mean everyone gets an equal share of the pie… that’s called socialism.

I once explained the concept to my socially liberal daughter by using her grades in school. As a straight A student, I suggested she give a letter grade to those who weren’t passing so that, while she would still be above average, the other students could pass and be promoted to the next level. Not surprisingly, she protested the proposal.

Some cry “that’s not fair!” You want fair? It comes once a year with cotton candy and fun rides. Equality is fair; equity is not. As leaders, we have to understand the difference.

INCLUSION. Merriam-Webster does a fine job of defining it for me: “the act or practice of including and accommodating people who have historically been excluded (as because of their race, gender, sexuality, or ability).” It’s the opposite of exclusion. I’m good with the definition because we (the we who these programs are meant to help) have historically been exclusive – discriminatory, if you will – in hiring, paying, and promoting practices.

But give me a break, WE have been doing bad things to each other since the advent of the human condition. Mostly out of ignorance, pride, and jealousy (think Cain and Abel).

Here’s why inclusion gets a bad rap, with an apology to Lewis Carroll:

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”

The military ensured I worked with a number of people I didn’t particularly care for over the years, mostly for their work ethic, and I’ve been in the EEO crosshairs for it more than once.

Naturally, I didn’t hang out with those outside work.

The fact is, regardless of anyone’s beliefs, if someone wasn’t pulling their weight around the office, I didn’t like it and might not have expressed my opinion in the most mature fashion. Sue me; I’m human.

That both behaviors were tolerated is a leadership issue, but that’s the subject of other articles.

So, for you leaders out there, here’s how to promote inclusion in the workplace:

    1. Hire talented people.
    2. Don’t tolerate discrimination, harassment, or offensive behavior. What you tolerate, you endorse.
    3. Don’t put someone who’s easily offended in the role of enforcing behavior problem.
    4. If someone’s behavior is unacceptable, don’t let them continue to work for you.

See, you can change behavior if the individual (or group) is willing to change, but you can’t change a person’s beliefs by force. No one – no one – has ever changed their beliefs through argument or intimidation. You can brow beat someone with a stick of another color all you want, but it’s not going to change their mind.

I’ll end my rant with this: if leaders are going to change culture in regard to DEI, they’re going to have to lead from the top and by example. They’re going to have to communicate to those they lead why a change is important to the survival of the company and why the efforts are the right thing to do.

If they don’t, hiring all the DEI specialists in the world aren’t going to fix their leadership problems.

But it’s up to you, leaders.

Are You Expecting? … and this ain’t about babies

Are You Expecting

Originally published nearly 40 years ago, What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff (now in its fifth edition) is the best-selling book on pregnancy of all time. As a man, I don’t know what’s different about being pregnant now than 40 years ago (and I’m not going to read the first and fifth editions to find out), but I don’t argue that more information is available now than then.

I can almost hear you thinking: What the hell does being pregnant have to do with leadership??

Nothing… except there’s not much difference between leading people today and leading them 40 (or 400 or 4,000) years ago. There’s just more information about it now.

As it was in the beginning, expectations – setting clear ones, communicating them, understanding them, and managing them – are one of the biggest challenges leaders face today.

I’m writing about expectations because last week a CEO I know – and most of the senior leadership team – was fired by the board for not dealing with some toxic interpersonal conflict among the senior team. The board expected the CEO to deal with it in a more timely manner, and that wasn’t happening.

Had the board communicated their expectation to the CEO? No. Did the CEO know there would be dire consequences for failing to meet the board’s expectation (that she didn’t know about)? Obviously not. So now you have a company that’s been decapitated and will struggle to survive.

Several years ago I worked with a company where the COO was frustrated with a senior director because she wasn’t managing her department like he expected. During feedback sessions, he would tell her to “manage your department.” She thought she was managing her department and didn’t understand his frustration.

How’s that for setting and communicating clear expectations?

If you assign someone a role without clearly setting and communicating your expectations – and the consequences for not meeting them, you’re setting them up for failure and yourself up for frustration.

On the flipside, if you accept a role without clearly understanding the expectations, you’re setting yourself up for both frustration and failure.

As a refresher, here’s few tips for setting expectations:

    • Set them early in the relationship – both performance and behavior
    • Make sure they’re realistic, attainable, and measurable.
    • Ensure they’re clearly communicated and understood.
    • Review them regularly (aka feedback) and be willing to revise them if necessary.

Clearly communicating your expectations as a leader has a number of benefits for your team, and Google can provide you with about a hundred million ways and whys. Not clearly communicating them always leads to miscommunication and usually results in low employee satisfaction and engagement.

One of the most important benefits of clearly set expectations (in my humble but educated opinion) is that it significantly reduces the amount of “am I doing this right” anxiety produced in an ambiguous environment. We all want to do the right thing correctly, but that’s really hard to do when we don’t know what’s expected of us.

Setting, communicating, and regularly reviewing expectations isn’t particularly difficult, but it has to be an intentional behavior for an effective leader. Like most of leadership, it’s a skill that can be learned and needs to be practiced.

If I’m not striking a chord with you, that must mean you’re already good at it. Chances are there are others in your organization that aren’t. How about helping them develop the skill.

That’s what leaders do.

It’s up to you.

Your Job Title is Meaningless! … and it isn’t who you are

Your Job Title is Meaningless

2023’s first leadership newsflash: You aren’t what you do!

And if that doesn’t surprise you, how about this: Your job title isn’t what you do, either.

Have you ever talked to someone who was a little too proud of their job title? Like “I’m the SENIOR Vice President for Beverage Dissemination” is supposed to impress someone. I hate guys like that.

Job titles are a lot like the letters after a name in a signature block. They’re only important to people who are impressed by them. Otherwise, they’re largely meaningless, especially to the people who work for and with you.

My first experience with this was as a young lieutenant when I was appointed as the Resources Augmentation Duty Officer. I guess they figured if I could say it, I could be it, and very few people knew what the job entailed. What I did was plan for and tell people how to protect planes and people in case of a disaster – including nuclear. And I was damned good at telling people what to do.

My job title wasn’t what I did… and what I did wasn’t who I was.

Years ago, I worked with the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict and Interoperable Capabilities (PDASD SO/LIC & IC for short). Try putting that on a business card. I’m not sure even he knew what he was supposed to do, except whatever the ASD SP/LIC & IC told him to do.

My point is this: Leaders don’t need a fancy job title to lead. They don’t need to be the Chief anything or the Vice President of anything to be a positive influence on, give a shit about, and help others succeed.

And their role in the organization is less important than who they are.

Good leaders know who they are – what their purpose is, what they believe in, and what they stand for… and what they won’t stand for. And none of that should be focused on self. They may not fully realize it at the time, but when a leader believes in people and cares more for the success of others than their own, everyone around them can tell.

Case in point: When I was the commander of a flying squadron, my purpose was to do everything in my power to help my teams deliver exceptional service to our clients. That was the measure of our success. I believed in them and their abilities and my confidence in them showed. They knew what I expected of them and what I wouldn’t tolerate. And it created an environment in which they were wildly successful (and made me look good in the process as an added bonus).

See, I knew the title wasn’t what I was supposed to do, and what I did reflected who I was.

At a time when job titles were so important to my peers, the sign on my door said simply “Kevin.” People didn’t come to me to be commanded; they came to me to be led.

Enough about me. How about you?

Does your desire for the next higher job title interfere with how you’re leading your team? Does your team know that you care about them and their success more than you care about yours? Does what’s important to you reflect in what’s important to them… and vice versa?

It’s a new year, so how about we start off with a new job title. If being a good leader is important to you in 2023, dare to be just Kevin. Or Bill or Julia or Ginny or Todd. Know who you are and dare to be yourself.

Or this year will be just like the last and the one before that.

How about it?

It’s up to you, leaders.

Who’s In Charge Now? …and who’s going to do all the work?

I have been vexed lately by organizations that have failed to have a succession plan for key leadership positions. Why do we do that to ourselves??

Maybe a better question is “why do we keep doing that to ourselves?

It seems to be filed in our playbooks as one of the Lessons Not Learned. And I certainly have no stone to throw at anyone who finds themselves in the all too familiar situation, as I’ve watched two organizations I’m involved with lose individuals – one expectedly and one not – who were more important to our success than we realized.

Apparently, we created single points of failure instead of points of success.

Attrition is a normal part of any organization as key contributors leave for greener pastures and senior leaders slip into retirement. Some we know about ahead of time and others catch us off guard. Whichever the case, changes in leadership at all levels are disruptive.

If we’re prepared for the change, the inevitable disruption is short-lived. If not, the gap in leadership talent can have a catastrophic effect. And I’m not just talking about changes in C-level leaders where we’ve groomed a single heir apparent. Instead of grooming more single points of failure, good succession planning focuses on developing a pool of talent with the desirable skills and experiences to fill either specific or a broader range of roles.

Sound simple I know, but I acknowledge it’s not often easy. Identifying “high potentials” is difficult in most organizations because we’re not intentional about openly discussing people with the potential to become more senior leaders. Heaven forbid we develop someone who then replaces us before we’re ready (even though I’ve never seen that happen).

We’re also often caught off guard by departures which is usually indicative of not being as in tune with or aware of our team members intentions or retirement planning. Most of the time, that’s on us.

To make matters harder, we have senior leaders in the organization who are loathe to cause a domino effect by moving internal talent (who has to be replaced, which leaves a vacancy that has to be filled, etc.) and defaults to recruiting external talent. This, too, is disruptive and tends to frustrate the individuals who think they’re ready for the promotion and who will start looking for another job.

Who’s In Charge Now - Succession Planning A few years ago, I worked with a mid-level leader who was hired to corral diverse activities under a single manager. As successful as he was, there was no one individual who could stand in during his absences because they lacked the knowledge of and insight into what was going on with the other managers in the division. Frustrated at being the single point of failure and the Chief, Cat Herder, he left the company with no one ready to take his place.

Then who did his function revert to? His boss, of course, and we can imagine how that turned out.

Two pieces of free advice (physician, heal thyself?): Stop the lip service about succession planning, and start being intentional about growing talented individuals to take on greater responsibility in the organization.

So, where do we start? How about the current and projected organization chart?

Have we forecasted prolonged absences? Are we planning to add another team to handle growth or downsizing to respond to market changes? Are we even thinking about who’s going to replace those we know are going to retire?


  • Make talent identification a regular part of conversations between senior leadership and boards of directors. We just don’t do that enough. The C-level needs to lead the way!
  • Decide on the skills we need to lead the company through current (and I dare say, future?) challenges to the organization. Do we even do that once a year when we half-heartedly participate in strategic planning efforts? Again, those skill gaps need to be a more regular topic of discussion.
  • Organizations that take it seriously will then assess and develop their identified talent to close the skills gap critical for the continued success of the company. This can go a long way to motivating and retaining our future leaders which, in turn, reinforces our corporate culture.

In my experience, both in the military and corporate worlds, we don’t do effective succession planning because it’s hard. No, we don’t do it because we’re too focused on the day-to-day performance of those who work for us.

We can admire the organizations that make leadership transition look seamless, and shake our heads empathetically at those who suffer through it, but what are we doing to make sure the disruption isn’t detrimental to our own company?

What’s it going to take before we do something about our lack of succession planning?

It’s up to you, leaders.

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