Jerry Osteryoung: What is good advice

December 13, 2013 

Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. -- Beth Cross, CEO, Ariat International

Managers and entrepreneurs receive so much advice, and it is hard to know which to follow. I have seen some entrepreneurs get conflicting advice and keep on asking the same questions in hopes of finding a clean solution to their problem. The trouble here is that we cannot discern good advice from bad if we have not established criteria to evaluate its validity.

The first step to getting good advice is ensuring you are asking the right people. Your family, for instance, is normally not the best place to seek advice as they are going to tell you what they think you want to hear -- which is not always what they really feel. Above and beyond that, they just may not be qualified to give sound advice. For these same reasons, you should not ask your staff for advice on critical business issues.

Your best source is going to be a professional who has experience with your issue and is not a member of your staff. When working with outside consultants, you want to ensure they will keep confidential any information you share with them.

It is also important to like and trust the person you ask for advice.

To give you an example of one person I count on for great advice, I am chairman of the First Commerce Credit Union, and one of our board members, Rivers

Buford, always has a different take on the issues we are facing. He adds so much to our discussions as he makes the entire board aware of both sides of every issue, and I am always telling him how much I appreciate his contributions.

Now, let us assume you are asking the right people for advice. The next step is being able to evaluate its worth.

It is important to know that because a person is qualified to give you advice does not mean the advice you receive is always going to be good. Sometimes it just does not feel right, in which case, it is probably a good idea to pass on this advice.

I call this the "uh-oh feeling." When this happens, your body and emotions are picking up signals that something is not quite right, and in my experience, it is best to go with that feeling.

In all my years of coaching and mentoring entrepreneurs and managers, I am able to see and feel when the person I am coaching is having an "uh-oh" response to some suggestion I have made. In these cases, I just ask the person what they are feeling, which helps me understand what emotion I have triggered and how to address their discomfort.

Another clear warning signal is when you just do not feel proud of the recommendation. This is a surefire sign that the advice or the advisor is not worth following. You should also be aware that if the advice you are getting is contrary to what the majority of folks are saying, it is worth looking at.

Finally, if the cost of the advice seems out of balance with the projected benefits, it might not be worth the investment. Most good advice does cost money, but the cost must be reasonable.

Now go out and make sure you are getting super advice. This starts with finding the right advisor, then vetting their recommendations to ensure they are relevant and in line with the way you manage your organization.

Jerry Osteryoung, a consultant to businesses, is the Jim Moran professor of entrepreneurship (emeritus) and professor of finance (emeritus) at Florida State University. He can be reached by email at jerry.osteryoung@gmail.com.

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