A Moratorium on Advice

Posted on Tuesday, June 14, 2011 in Communication, Community, Interpersonal Skills, Leadership

overflowing cupWhen Someone Deeply Listens to you

When someone deeply listens to you
it is like holding out a dented cup
you’ve had since childhood
and watching it fill up with
cold, fresh water.
When it balances on top of the brim,
you are understood.
When it overflows and touches your skin,
you are loved.

When someone deeply listens to you
the room where you stay
starts a new life
and the place where you wrote
your first poem
begins to glow in your mind’s eye.
It is as if gold has been discovered!

When someone deeply listens to you
your bare feet are on the earth
and a beloved land that seemed distant
is now at home within you.

-John Fox

“We need a moratorium on advice.”

-Peter Block

On Monday and Wednesday last week, as part of the New Mexico Municipal League’s Municipal Officials Leadership Institute (MOLI), I had the pleasure of facilitating leadership training for 10 mayors and council members.

On Wednesday, I presented a modified Case Clinic process developed by the Presencing Institute.

The basic details of the activity are that participants gather in small groups of 4-5 people per team. A case giver presents a leadership situation that is current, concrete, important, one happens to be a key player, can be presented in 10 minutes and could make a big difference moving forward. The rest of the group engages in generative dialogue and solution brainstorming.

A big part of the activity is for group members to use inquiry to help the case giver move toward possible solutions.

During the first case, almost everyone turned it into an advice giving session.

Advice wasn’t helpful. Advice turned the attention away from the case giver and onto the advice giver. An underlying assumption was what worked for the advice giver would work for the case giver.

The impulse to give advice comes from social training that tells leaders to solve problems as quickly as possible. In fact, the message is to be a leader is to be a problem solver.

Leaders need to listen and not try to solve everyone’s problems. They need to be comfortable with ambiguity and with letting those with problems connect with peers to work together.

Citizens routinely develop dependence on elected officials. Elected officials let citizens shift ownership and accountability to them.

To create communities of citizen to citizen ownership and accountability, a first step is to substitute curiosity and inquiry for advice.

Image:  shioshvili

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