People love to give advice. From how to grill the perfect steak to how to raise your children, many feel their opinion warrants the right to share how to improve the lives of others. Business is no different. Your career is a journey that will be filled with those itching to tell you exactly what to do, how to do it, and when to do it.
It's especially confusing when you're a first-time entrepreneur, CEO, leader, or all of the above. You are constantly second-guessing if you're making the right decision. Seeking outside counsel is naturally your first reaction to any hard situation that arises.
Throughout my career, I've been given some really bad advice. Now that I'm older and wiser, it's easier for me to distinguish what's worth going through one ear and out the other. On the other hand, I've also been lucky to receive invaluable insights from mentors, colleagues, and successful leaders who have been gracious to share their expertise with me.
Ask any successful entrepreneur and they'll likely be able to recite those nuggets of great information they've held on to, some of which may have even changed the trajectory of their careers. Manish Chandra, CEO and Founder of Poshmark, happened to be one of those lucky recipients of valuable advice that changed the way he ran his company.
In a recent conversation we had, he shared that at the beginning of his business, he made the mistake of trying to do too many things at the same time. His mentor called this YAFO, or Yet Another Fine Opportunity syndrome.
"This advice helped me see the challenges YAFO syndrome could create," said Chandra. "It changed the way I shaped the company. I learned to only expand into new markets when we were really ready, rather than trying to be all things at all times."
Good advice is hard to come by, but when you do, it can change everything. So here's some advice (the irony!) on three questions to ask yourself to decipher whose opinion is worth listening to, and whose is worth ignoring.
1. Who's your source?
If your banker started giving you medical advice, would you take their opinion to heart? (I hope the answer is no.) Think about the person who is giving you their two cents. If they have a track record of successful leadership, respect from their colleagues, and more importantly, have made mistakes and learned from them, then it's probably someone worth paying closer attention to.
Don't let fancy titles or overt bragging cloud your judgment. If this person doesn't have the résumé to back up their statements, then you really have to assess whether it's worth your time. Furthermore, analyze their intent. Do you really think they're trying to help you progress, or do they just want an audience so they can feel important?
2. Did they ask you questions?
Before anyone can give you sound guidance, they should be doing something vitally crucial to their credibility: asking you questions. Just like you can't give someone directions until you know their destination, you also shouldn't solicit information without knowing the full picture.
These questions should be insightful. They should ask about numbers, facts, and relationships. This person should be genuinely interested in who you are, what you're doing, and how you're doing it. If you feel like you're in an interview, then you know you're about to receive some thoughtful and valuable advice.
3. What does your gut say?
The old gut check really doesn't lie. It may sound cliché, but it's true. If you feel like the guidance you've received seems off, incorrect, or just gives you the wrong feeling, don't ignore your instincts.
This person may seem older and wiser, but remember: they don't have their jobs or companies on the line. The advice they give you won't alter their future, but it could alter yours.