When Starbucks chairman, Howard Schultz, was contemplating his return as CEO of the coffee behemoth, he sought the advice of Michael Dell, founder of computer giant Dell, Inc. This was arguably the biggest decision of Schultz's career, and he needed guidance from someone who had faced similar circumstances. The two went on bike rides while vacationing in Hawaii, discussing if and how Schultz would resume day-to-day control.
Michael Dell was unique in that he was experienced in returning as the CEO of his own public company, roughly a year before Schultz attempted the same move. With help from Dell and many others, Schultz drove Starbucks' stock up from around $9 per share to over $60, which Schultz details in his book, Onward.
Especially in running a business, we all need advice, as we tackle significant decisions. The right advice can launch you into a new stratosphere, while the wrong advice can be your undoing. Hall of Fame golfer, Gary Player, has even gone so far as to attribute the woes of Tiger Woods to receiving bad advice from people who didn't fully understand his circumstances. This is why coveted associations exist for business leaders, like the Young Presidents' Organization (YPO).
I've always been one to seek advice. But sometimes, I'm shocked at how amazingly accomplished people can provide terrible recommendations. This is a common theme in the business world, as alleged experts with big titles and big bank accounts can point executives in the wrong direction. Taking a page from Howard Schultz, here are four ways to ensure that the advice that you receive is world-class:
You need someone with first-hand experience with your unique circumstances. Anyone giving advice should have walked in your shoes and lay awake at night staring up at the ceiling. This is the hardest aspect to get right but also the most crucial.
With Schultz, Michael Dell had gone through the trying experience of re-inserting himself as the CEO of his company. He was well-suited to help Schultz anticipate the reaction from his employees to Wall Street analysts; Dell even shared strategic documents that had assisted with his own transition.
Make sure that the advice is truly unbiased and void of conflicting interest. The person giving advice shouldn't have anything to gain or lose, depending on the outcome. This can be an issue with coworkers, investors, and strategic partners.
Dell didn't have any motivation other than helping Schultz make the best decision for his company. This liberated him to make suggestions that were beneficial to both Schultz personally and to Starbucks the corporation.
An advice giver needs to be able to tell you anything: positive or negative. However, our society tends to favor political correctness, and we're encouraged not to offend others. This can lead to terrible advice. You need experienced, objective people to tell you EXACTLY they think.
A fellow billionaire and industry titan, Dell was able to offer candid feedback, especially with topics difficult to stomach.
Advice should come from someone who knows you extremely well and that you trust implicitly. This is the only way to truly empower them to help you.
Schultz needed to be able to arm Dell with a wealth of highly sensitive information so that he could, in turn, receive premier guidance. Fortuitously, Schultz and Dell had been friends long before either decided to return as his company's CEO.