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

By Dan Ciampa

Harvard Business School Press

$50 hardcover

Chapter 1 of Dan Ciampa's new book starts with a story that will sound very familiar to CIOs.

A highly successful company launches an ambitious re-engineering project with the goal of establishing world-class IT systems and business processes. Instead, the project damaged customer relations, strained relationships between senior and lower-level management, caused talented people to leave and reversed years of progress. Ciampa quotes the CEO:

We spent more money on this one project so far than we have ever spent on consulting projects that were completed. And I have to be honest: We got absolutely nothing worthwhile from it. I'm embarrassed to say this, but the consultants told me going in that there would be some broken glass, but that they'd get the job done and be a partner with us through it all. They convinced us that the progress we were making on our own was too slow -- that if we really wanted to continue as market leaders, we had to tear down what we had and then build up what we needed. It couldn't be done in our [incremental] style. But the managers and employees would see that the end result would be worth it, and the efficiencies and cost savings would pay for it. They had a good sales pitch, but not the implementation abilities to do what they promised in our environment. The only thing they were right about was the broken glass.

Sound familiar?

The firm's CEO couldn't understand how his managers, who were so competent and sophisticated, allowed such an important project to spiral out of control. Ciampa argues that the issue boils down to advice -- especially advice from outside advisers and consultants.

More than ever, outside advisers are offering advice on increasingly costly projects; yet ironically as this advice has become more pervasive, leaders have grown less satisfied with it -- especially when dealing with high-stakes, unfamiliar situations that require assertive action, speed and wise judgment.

In Taking Advice, Ciampa, an adviser to leaders and organizations, and former CEO of Rath & Strong, a management and consulting firm,offers a new theory on advice-taking with rules, frameworks and insights. Central to his point is the argument that almost all of the thought and commentary regarding advice has been from the "supply-side" -- i.e., on being a good adviser or consultant. A more useful -- and complete -- view of advice needs to address what Ciampa calls the "demand-side," or organizational leaders seeking principles and recommendations on how to take advice in practice.

Learning how to take advice is critical, says Ciampa, because it bridges the gap between a leader's vision and the realization of that vision. So when leaders fail to solicit advice, when they obtain it from the wrong sources, or when they ignore good advice, they and their vision suffer.

To avoid such costly failure, Taking Advice explains the different types of advice-taking (strategic, operational, political and personal) and defines four types of advisers (expert, experienced, sounding board and partner). Throughout the book, Ciampa illustrates his ideas with examples from the public sector and the business industry.

Tod Newcombe  |  Senior Editor

With more than 20 years of experience covering state and local government, Tod previously was the editor of Public CIO, e.Republic’s award-winning publication for information technology executives in the public sector. He is now a senior editor for Government Technology and a columnist at Governing magazine.