This is the first part in a series of blogs that revolve around one of the strongest and most damaging anti-patterns for Agile, Agile Coaches and Agile Leadership.

It is also a key element in the Coaching Levers – Lever 1: Activate the Coach, Activate Coaching.

It all starts with how we engage with each other. What our conversations sound like and most importantly, the impact we have on others in those conversations. For the sake of what are we speaking ? What is the actual outcome you are trying to achieve ? Turns out, it isn’t so much about solving the problem at all.

Take a moment and just listen to the conversations around you. How many of them revolve around giving advice ? As professionals we don’t call what we do advice giving, instead we use a far more acceptable term, we provide solutions, expert advice and of course we problem solve, but it is really advice.

Advice is that moment where one person who obviously knows better (they are an actual expert or have a role that grants them expert powers, or they are just older and so know better) graciously informs everyone of how it should be. And so all possibility is switched off and we either enter the land of compliance where everyone gives up and just does as they are told or the land of resistance where we fight for the best advice to be taken up. Either way you are no longer co-creating or problem solving and the impact is sever.

One of the fundamental limits of an agile transformation is that you can not go further than the coach and the leadership! The leader creates the edges of the container of what is possible and permissible and the coach further restricts that or supports is. The quickest and best way to limit performance and effectiveness (and so delivery) is for leaders and coaches to be stuck in the how, is how coaches and leaders limit the ability of their teams to perform. Because basically, you are restricting the teams to what you know and how you know how to do it!

Imagine that!

When you give advice you are restricting someone else’s experience to only what you have experienced! Nothing else is valid!

The enormity of this assumptions stuns me! There is an invisible and unconscious arrogance that creates a fury inside of me. Because I have been on the receiving end of this and know what it feels like to have my own experience invalidated. It feels like I am insignificant, unimportant, have no value, a waste of time and space. It has destroyed my sense of self, my confidence in myself and my self esteem. It has taken away my courage and my agency and my ability to live MY life.

It also creates a sense of intense shame because I know I have done this to others. Those feelings of being nothing, I have created in and for others. And I know that this is still something that I do. Hopefully in a less damaging way, but it is still there – a core need for myself, to exist is to share who I am, what I know and ways to proceed. I want to feel valuable and this is the only thing that I have of value to give. So I have spent lots and lots of time learning and mastering so that what I share will actually be valid and valuable and effective.

When you give advice, you are restricting someone else’s experience to only what you know and have experienced!

You take away their ability to choose for themselves and to choose what works for their strengths.

You take away their motivation, their sparkle and their delight. You create passive, dependant team members and you become the bottle neck.

When you live strongly from giving advice you can’t even see other people’s experiences. If you haven’t or aren’t experiencing it, it just doesn’t exist. Of course there is no sexual discrimination in the workplace. It is 2020! Of course we have no work place bullying, this is a company that prides itself on being people oriented! Of course scrum works, that is how I did it last time, well it didn’t actually work last time, but I now know what went wrong, so this is what we have to do now.

There is more to escaping the Advice Trap then cognitively recognising that you may do it! It takes a deep commitment to shift what you value from the short term gain one gets from giving advice to the longer term goal of creating a system that fosters and grows exceptional performance. Because exceptional performance requires that every person on the team is present and contributing from their best selves! It requires that they share and use and grow their experience – so the leader’s experience becomes one part of the puzzle.

There are some real impacts to teams and the success of organisations where advice giving is the norm. It makes it impossible for a team to become more than the sum of it’s parts! It stops organisational change and it disempowers everyone but the people who have permission to give advice.

The trick is in really becoming aware of these impacts (which are outlined in the second blog post) and the reasons why we still keep doing it (blog post 3 & 4).

It isn’t about defeating or eliminating this pattern from your being. It is about taming it and being able to recover so quickly that no-one notices you were there.

My invitation is to take the next week and just keep track of the amount of time you take up in a conversation and where the balance is, do you tell and give advice or are you being curious and sharing ?

What happens if you shift the balance to being curious, exploring options and possibilities ?

How do the rest of your team start to show up ?

You may be surprised by the results.

For more on how advice giving impacts agile coaching efficacy and what the actual impact of advice is, read the second in the blog series here