Sometimes Leaders Get Advice They Need to Ignore

Leaders are usually great at hearing feedback – both good and bad. They know that feedback is how they get better at their craft. However, there is a specific type of feedback I recommend leaders ignore. In Episode 132 of the Lead From Anywhere podcast, I covered that specific type of feedback, and how to handle it. I also share why it is important for leaders to ignore this type of advice.

Leadership Advice to Ignore – Listen Now!

Sometimes Leaders Need to Ignore Unsolicited Advice

I have had a few people recently who gave me feedback after my decisions without me asking for it. They have been happy to tell me, “Oh, well I thought that was going to be a bad outcome, but I wanted to see what would actually happen,” and then they go on to tell me what I should have done.

Here’s the deal –  hindsight is 20/20 my friends. It’s easy to analyze a decision after the fact. Listen, you and I know that leadership is incredibly hard and sometimes decisions don’t go the way we want them to go. But as the leader, you have to make those decisions without being able to predict the future.

Now I’m all about seeking advice from other leaders – even when it’s criticism or feedback that is hard to hear. Even when I don’t seek that advice, I’ll usually listen to it with an open mind. But there are times when I do not listen to advice from other leaders.

There Are Times to Ignore Leadership Advice

When the advice or feedback isn’t asked for, and it comes AFTER a decision was made, from someone who has never led a team in a similar situation, that’s when I ignore leadership advice.  It’s not even really advice – it’s unsolicited feedback, and it often sounds like, “You should have done x,” or, “You did that poorly,” or, “Here’s what I would have done.” It’s even worse if it comes from someone who could have spoken up beforehand – who knew you were making a hard decision – but then waits until after the fact to tell you their thoughts.

To be clear, I’m not talking about times when you’re seeking out the feedback and advice. If you ask another leader to look at a decision you made and help you figure out the mistakes you made and how to navigate it better next time, that’s different. But those Monday Morning Quarterbacks, or backseat drivers, those are the opinions to ignore.

This problem usually shows up when there is a group of leaders or managers making a decision, but the final decision ultimately lies with you. Often times, the people in the group will, during the decision-making process, turn to you and say things like, “I’ll support whatever you decide to do here,” or, “This is a tough decision and I know it won’t be easy for you to make.” They may offer some insights, but they ultimately don’t take on responsibility and accountability for the decision.

It can show up in other ways, too, but that’s been my experience. And when that after-the-decision criticism shows up, here’s what I suggest you do:

  • If they had no part in the discussions for the decision, thank them, take what you can from their feedback (if anything), and then move on.
  • If the person offering that criticism was involved with the decision-making process, ask them why they didn’t bring that up before the decision was made.
    • Either they will say they didn’t know how it would play out – well guess what, neither did you. No one can predict the future.
    • Or, they will say they didn’t think it was relevant, which means they were looking for an “I told you so” opportunity. If that’s the case, maybe they shouldn’t be in those types of meetings because they withheld information that could have helped you make a better decision.
    • Going forward with this individual, make sure to ask them their opinion in meetings about future decisions. If they say they don’t have one, remind them of this scenario.

It’s Important to Ignore Certain Leadership Advice

I’m sharing this today, and you can probably tell I’m a bit fired up about, because it’s important. Leaders need to have a healthy level of humility when making decisions. Worry and doubt are part of the job. We know we don’t know everything, and we also know that sometimes the decisions we have to make will have consequences that we can’t predict. But at the end of the day, a great leader will weigh the pros and cons, and make the best decision they can, with the info they have.

And if things go wrong – the first person who will feel bad about it is going to be the leader who made the decision. The leader will OWN the bad decision and figure out how to move forward. They don’t need someone else to tell them how bad of a decision it was.

If a leader lets this type of advice get under their skin, it can really cause a lot of problems for them. They will second guess decisions, won’t be able to make decisions, they will change their minds more frequently after a decision is made, and they’ll just generally doubt their leadership abilities.

That leader then becomes someone who cannot lead, which is the last thing we want.

Please, as a leader, don’t take this type of feedback personally. And if you’re a leader and do have some feedback to share, here’s what you do. You ASK that person if you can share your feedback. Ask them if they are in a place to hear some critical feedback. Get permission. Then, do your own work and figure out how YOU could have helped that leader ahead of time, before they had to make that decision.