Living in a world where leaders are constantly bombarded with messages that make big promises or guarantees – which ones are we to believe? How can leaders accurately discern who is truly imparting wisdom for the leader, and not ideas, insight, advice or suggestions that are ultimately not in the best interests of the leader?  All kinds of people and organizations are clamoring to get the leader’s attention.  If you sit back and analyze some or all of the clamoring, I bet you’d agree that it comes from people and organizations that want something from you rather than are willing to give you something.

The world is placing a tremendous amount of pressure on organizational leaders of all types to follow their leadership methods. But how do we know who to take advice from?  How do we know where to get the most appropriate or useful advice from?

As leaders, I suggest we step back and examine three factors when discerning the value of the advice we are being offered. Those three factors are motives, character and expertise.  Yes, expertise is important, yet motives and character are more important.  Let’s explore why.

Motives are the reasons why someone does something.  Simple enough. As leaders, we have all experienced people who seem to have one intention, yet in reality, they have a hidden intention, something we call a hidden agenda.  As a discerning leader, you must understand the real motive or agenda that someone has when they offer you advice. Is their motive(s) for your wellbeing and benefit, or is it for someone else’s well being or benefit, including their own?  Is their motive for the benefit of the organization you are leading? We must clearly and fully understand their motive.

Character comprises the elements of our personality that are core to our being.  When we say someone has a strong character, we usually mean it as a complement because we see elements such as honesty, integrity, faithfulness, humility, courage, etc. We see the person who acts in a consistent manner.  As a discerning leader, you must know the character of the person who is offering you advice.  You probably would not readily accept the tax planning advice of convicted tax evader, unless of course they have served their time and shown much evidence of a change in character.

A credible adviser must have the knowledge and experience that qualify them to provide advice in a particular matter.  We call this expertise.  We wouldn’t take advice on leadership from someone who has limited experience in leading people or projects. They don’t have the necessary expertise to provide advice in this area.  Discerning leaders want to ask the advice of people who have “been there and done that”.

Although expertise is important, that expertise will be worthless if one’s motives or character are not aligned with the leader.

One other point – Leaders who do not regularly seek advice and who rely on their own insight, knowledge or wisdom are prideful. As leaders, we can’t know everything, so discerning leaders actively seek out others who can provide sound advice and counsel on a variety of issues.  It is not a sign of incompetence when a leader seeks advice – instead, it is a sign of true wisdom.

There is a proverb that says “Walk with the wise and become wise, associate with fools and get in trouble.” The wise in this case are those who have the right motives, have solid character and have subject matter expertise.  Fools are those whose motives are for self rather than the leader or the organization, whose character is suspect or not always consistent, or who do not have the expertise to advise on the subject at hand.

What other factors have you found important?