Taking Advice: How Leaders Get Good Counsel and Use It Wisely

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By Dan Ciampa
Harvard Business School Press,
2006
220 pages, $26.95

Consultant Dan Ciampa has written a book on how best to use advice. In Taking Advice: How Leaders Get Good Counsel and Use It Wisely, Ciampa develops a new framework by identifying four kinds of advice and four kinds of advisors. He suggests that the key categories of advice are strategic, operational, political, and personal, and that the important types of advisors are the experts, who offer deep specialized knowledge; the experienced, who have held jobs like the leader’s; the partners, who sign on for longer durations as advisors; and the sounding boards, who offer a “safe harbor” where the leaders can express their own minds, confident that their views will go no further. In his opinion, every leader needs a balanced advice network.

For the reader, the principal benefit of this book is that it helps one think through the kind of advice network one needs and how to set it up. There are two hurdles in setting up a balanced advice network: the selection of the right advisors and the formation of strong working relationships. The criteria for selection are content (does the advisor possess the kind of knowledge I am looking for?), competence (does the advisor have direct experience?), and chemistry (are the advisor and I on the same wavelength?). A strong working relationship requires the leader to define the desired end state, while the advisor’s role is to develop the means to achieve it. The tests are practicality (does it match both the complexity of the situation and the capability of those taking advice?), whether value is being added, dependability, and commitment. Ciampa supplies abundant practical examples of the principles in action.

Taking Advice, like so many management books, is no more than applied common sense. The strengths of this volume are its clear frameworks and the author’s obvious knowledge of his subject. At times, however, the prose feels padded, and one wonders if this topic might have been better dealt with in an article or two rather than in a full-length book.

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