As A CEO, This Is How I Decide What Advice To Listen To

Part of being an effective CEO, or leader in general, means making an extreme effort to learn from those around you. It can be beneficial, and even reassuring at times, to hear from another CEO how they worked through a particular problem.

However, ask for advice often enough and you’ll start to receive very contradictory answers. What worked well for one CEO may not have worked for the next. And with so many ideas and potential solutions coming at me at once, it can be difficult to decide which advice to follow.

So, while I always want to keep my ears open and continue learning from those around me, I have also had to come up with my own strategy for accepting advice and insight from others.

I ask the question, “Is this advice testable?”

Not all advice fits every situation. And not all solutions should be implemented company-wide from the start.

One person says look for authenticity in new employees. Others say people use authenticity as an excuse not to try new things. Some say to be disciplined about annual performance reviews, others say to get rid of them completely. Be execution-focused. No. Be strategy-focused.

Being an effective CEO isn’t just about solving the issue, but thinking hard about how those issues get solved as they arise — and what variables determine how those decisions get made.

While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all equation for following the right advice every time, I have found a testing process that has been most beneficial in helping me decide which advice is worth implementing — and why:

A Testable Method

The only “great” advice is advice that can be tested.

Every problem has its own unique challenges. While there likely are similar versions of your situation going on in many other companies, the nuances are what make them your own. As such, not every solution will be as great fit. As I said before, the best advice comes down to the context of the situation. And the best way to see which advice is right for each situation is to test the advice.

While the advice could be good or bad, if there’s no way to test it, then it’s not great advice.

Any advice you can’t test without implementing can have major consequences on your company. You greatly minimize your risk by finding ways to try out the advice without having to do a major, company-wide rollout.

Here’s An Example Of A Failed Test With Positive Results

The problem every CEO faces at some point is learning how to push decision-making down.

Instead of waiting for all the problems to rise up to the C level, you’re much more effective as a leader when you push decisions down to where they can more appropriately be made.

An approach I decided to implement for this particular issue that was testable was a portion of the Holocracy Management method — made famous by Zappos. It didn’t so much push decision-making down, as much as it did empower the independence of each individual person. The idea was to reduce as much red tape as possible.

Now, I didn’t use the full method, because the full method didn’t fit this context, but I borrowed from it and found an aspect of it that I could test within the company.

First, we asked the key questions: What would it look like if it was working? How would someone implement the process? What would success look like?

The test didn’t end up being successful, it was just a bit too foreign to people. However, what we did get out of it were interviews with very strong candidates capable of making decisions people listened to. We wanted people that had the gravitas and experience that would command authority in their decisions. If we felt their decision-making skills would be listened to by others, we would hire them. And the positive effects of hiring these types of people has been long-lasting in our company.

Even though the test failed, we still benefited as a company — not because the method itself was the right answer, but because we were able to test it and extract our own conclusions.