Where Can I get Advice?

Life in the top chair can be lonely particularly when you are faced with business circumstances that require decisions outside of your comfort zone. How do you get the perspective to execute a decision process to deal with a specific situation? Can you go to your leadership team when the problem may conflict with their vested interests – job security, career objectives, self-esteem, etc.

Direct reports are not always the best resource to give you advice as it may be difficult resolving what they tell you. It may be designed to respond to what they think you want to hear. Even if you have an employee who you feel is a good “unbiased/confidential” resource you need to recognize that others will know he/she has your ear. This raises other organizational conflicts unless you are able to let everyone in on what is going on which is not always possible or appropriate.

Owners and executives who have found themselves in this predicament and have dealt with it successfully have reached outside the company for advice. This can be risky if done in an emergency mode so the best practice is to proactively develop relationships with people whose opinions you regard highly. These people should have the range of experience and expertise that covers the areas of your business that you are less familiar with. In the event that this group is not able to address a specific issue they are probably in a position to direct you to a reliable resource.

Consultants (those who have actually had credible management experience developing their area of expertise) are a common way to create an advisory resource. This may be done on an hourly basis or retainer. A retainer may appear more costly but it removes the billable hour pressure that might influence availability and desire of the consultant to move into a more involved role in the solution which compromises the independent perspective of your advisor for they are now part of the problem.

Other business professionals if you find they are sufficiently removed from your market – customers and competitors – to handle your discussions confidentially. A number of organizations offer “leadership” groups where you can meet in a structured process, often 4 – 8 hours every month, where members are required to discuss different aspects of their business. This can be a valuable source of advice as long as you can be transparent, honest in divulging critical information about your company and able to be accountable to the group. Having this type of an accountability partner/group can be very effective but also intimidating for many of us.

Professionals who have retired that have had a credible track record in industries and levels of responsibility that are similar to you can also be very useful. However, will they take the time to understand your business or be flattered by your invitation to be an adviser and just offer platitudes? An advisor should be proactive in pursuing information in order to give you informed advice.

No matter which way you go, effectively using an outside advisor requires an investment in time, discernment in developing a trust relationship, becoming comfortable being told what you don’t want to hear and accountable to someone when you are used to being the top dog. An owner or CEO/CXO does this successfully will be recognized as someone who is coachable, prudent, balanced and will most likely have a record of successfully making decisions that are well thought out. Another by product will be the positive influence on his management team in how they become part of a decision making process that has depth of experience and business expertise.

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