The Client-centred Blog

What use is good advice without strong leadership?

There is a famous story about a woman visiting Gandhi with her young son.

She and her son had travelled a long way and when they eventually got their chance to speak with him, he asked how he could help, and the woman said:

“My son eats far too much sugar; can you tell him to stop?”

Gandhi thought for a moment and then said to the woman to bring her son back in two weeks.

So, two weeks later, after another long journey, the woman and her son met him again. Gandhi looked the boy in the eye and said, “Stop eating sugar!”

The woman, slightly confused, asked, “Why did you not you say this two weeks ago?”

Gandhi replied, “Because two weeks ago I was still eating sugar myself!”

What do you see in this story?

For me, it is the difference between simply giving advice and leadership.

The world abounds with people dishing out helpful advice yet much of the time it seems to fall on deaf ears.

Michael Bungay Stanier in his book, ‘The Advice Trap’ points out:

‘We keep giving advice even though it doesn’t work that well.’  

Good advice is only useful if people follow it. If someone doubts you, does not trust you, or does not respect you, then the chances that they will follow your advice are drastically weakened.

Clients that reject your advice, question your intentions, and would rather follow their own (bad) ideas do not make good clients.

This is not an uncommon problem. On several occasions, I have listened to an adviser complain about clients who reject their advice.

Yet the issue is not with the client. It is a leadership issue that begins with the adviser.

How come?

Clearly, a client has the right to reject advice. But if this happens you must reflect and ask yourself how things got this far down the road in the first place?

Gandhi could have easily said “Stop eating sugar!” to the boy on their first meeting.

So, why did he send them away?

Because he knew that the state of mind from which you speak is far more important than the words. Impact does not come from the words but where they are spoken from.

P.S. If you want to know more about this I wrote a blog a couple of year ago titled, ‘The invisible side of client engagement’. Click here to read.

John Dashfield

John Dashfield spent 14 years as a self-employed adviser. Since 2006 he has been a coach, mentor and author helping advisers create transformations in their business and personal lives.