5 Reasons to Stop Giving Advice to Elevate Your Team
Leadership is not about being in charge
Leadership often brings to mind an image – a captain confidently steering a ship through the vast sea. This portrayal encapsulates the archetype of a leader as the one at the front, with the wisdom to navigate their vessel and crew.
But, what if we flipped the script?
Picture the same ship, but this time the captain stands at the back, not at the front. At the back, their focus is on their team to support them on their collective journey.
This challenges the conventional narrative of leadership as someone at front with answers, directing every step, to being at the back listening, caring and asking questions.
As Simon Sinek says “Leadership is not about being in charge. It’s about taking care of those in your charge”
Coaching is an advice-free zone
This shift in leadership echoes a powerful coaching philosophy where traditionally coaching is viewed as an advice-free zone. In the coaching relationship, it is the coachee (the client), that is the expert steering the boat forward, and the coach is at the back supporting the coachee to navigate their own path.
While labelling coaching as an “advice-free” zone may sound like an easy out for coaches, there are compelling reasons for doing so, and it’s a lot harder than you may think (more on that later).
Here’s why coaches don’t give advice, or at least try really hard not to, and why the same applies to leaders.
Reason 1: Foster autonomy, not dependency
Think of a coach who has empowered their client to navigate solo – that’s success!
The real goal of a coach is not to be needed, to make themselves redundant.
A confident leader will want the same thing, positioning themselves as enablers of growth. They’ll empower their team to thrive independently by fostering a culture of self-reliance and growth. This can only be achieved when individuals are encouraged to look inward for answers rather than relying on them to be served to them.
Reason 2. Cultivate Creativity and Problem-Solving Skills
Successful coaches don’t hand out solutions, instead, they encourage their clients to be a little crazy, to think outside the box, and to come up with their own solutions. This “no-limit” thinking in a safe, judgement-free environment cultivates creativity and problem-solving skills that can be used for future challenges.
Similarly, leaders who are able to resist the urge to prescribe solutions and instead ask questions allow their teams to think creatively and develop robust problem-solving skills.
As Tony Robbins wisely noted, “Successful leaders ask questions more than they give answers.
Reason 3: Enhance Ownership and Accountability
A coach cannot make change happen for their client, no matter how much they want to. In fact, the opposite can be true. The harder a coach tries to give direction for change, the more resistant to change a client can become as a subconscious battle of ownership and agency emerges. It’s a bitter pill to swallow for a well-intended coach.
Same in leadership. When leaders guide rather than dictate, team members feel a greater sense of ownership and agency over their decisions. This shared responsibility fosters a culture of accountability, where individuals are not only answerable for their actions but also actively contribute to the collective success of the team.
“Responsibility equals accountability equals ownership. And a sense of ownership is the most powerful weapon a team or organization can have.” – Pat Summitt.
Reason 4: Bolster Confidence and Self-Belief
In coaching, improved self-confidence and self-belief are common outcomes. Many of my clients, at the end of their coaching journey, describe themselves as a better version of their original selves. A version that feels more at peace as they no longer need to try so hard to impress others because they impress the one person that matters most, themselves. This realisation is inherently linked to coaching methodologies that aim to instil a sense of self-assurance and belief in one’s ability.
The same holds true for leadership. Leaders who are able to refrain from constant advice provide a nurturing environment where team members can build confidence in their abilities.
Reason 5: Build evidence of capability and resourcefulness
Every time a client is empowered to craft a solution or learns from an experience, it provides evidence of their capability, resourcefulness, and resilience. For a coach, providing advice would hinder this opportunity and may fuel inner beliefs of not being good enough.
A confident leader will look for every opportunity to support their team to build a strong case study of how capable and resourceful their team is.
Why is it so hard to tame the “Advice Monster”?
Taming the Advice Monster is a formidable challenge, not for the faint-hearted.
Coined by Michael Bungay Stainer, author of “The Advice Trap: Be Humble, Stay Curious & Change the Way You Lead Forever” the Advice Monster is the innate inclination to offer up solutions and advice whenever we can.
While the notion of not giving advice sounds simple, in reality, it poses an exceptionally daunting task. Why is that so?
The desire to feel needed, indispensable, and helpful is a universal human trait. We’re wired to look for attachment and a sense of belonging. Offering advice not only strokes our ego, providing a satisfying sense of validation and purpose, but it also feeds our inherent need to be seen as knowledgeable.
Striking at the core of vulnerability, the challenge to hold back advice may stem from the fear that withholding it might convey a lack of understanding or knowledge. Taming the Advice Monster is not an easy feat. It demands continuous practice and a deliberate commitment to listen rather than speak.
In the hustle and bustle of daily life, take a moment to pause and reflect on the coaches and leaders in your life.
Who has made the biggest difference in your development? Who stands out as the most influential?
Where did they position themselves on the continuum of offering guidance and advice?
The shift from leading at the forefront, directing actions, to taking a step back, encouraging attentive listening and thoughtful questioning, goes beyond a typical leadership philosophy; it represents a transformative approach. The ongoing challenge of holding back from giving advice, of taming the natural instinct to be an advice-giver or “fixer”, is something many can relate to. It’s a reminder of our shared human desire for validation and purpose. Striking a balance between offering insights and guiding others in finding their own answers is at the core of authentic leadership—it’s not about having all the answers but about a steadfast dedication to empowering others to discover them for themselves.
Now, where do you find yourself in this spectrum? Can you resist the urge to speak and instead embrace the art of inquiry?
Should you find yourself in need of some advice-free support as you navigate the journey, please don’t hesitate to reach out and book a free coaching call.
About the author
Josie Askin, CEO of Spring Coaching, is a performance and productivity coach who works with driven leaders and entrepreneurs to improve their performance and productivity.
Josie has nearly 20 years working in government, in a range of advisory roles. She became interested in the gaps between workplace performance and wellbeing, gradually building analogies between sport and business performance while gaining several coaching qualifications. Now she deals with clients under pressure from all walks of life offering tailored leadership performance coaching, workplace wellbeing programmes, workshops, speaking and facilitation.