No matter how much of an expert of you are in your chosen career, sometimes you need outside perspective. I’m endlessly surprised though, at who people choose to rely on though; even more so when they pose very specific or sensitive questions to their social networks.
For one thing, you never really know who your true friends or lurking frenemies are and whether their advice will be designed to help or hinder your goals. For another, random advice and conflicting ideas can cloud your journey instead of clarifying it. So, what should you do if you need help trying to figure something out?
Instead of posting extremely personal details into the ether, figure out a way to present it only to the best and most potential helpful group. Alice Labaton, the founder of MyMakeupBrushes comes from an extremely tightknit, in some ways isolated community that has been hugely influential in every aspect of her life. For that reason, when starting her business, she “was always looking for some sense of community. I felt like I was failing in the entrepreneur community.” On the flipside, when tapping into her existing community, she said: “I felt that some of the people I encountered weren’t the right people because they weren’t of the world.”
Labaton joined various entrepreneurial ventures and searched until she felt she found one with a “safe environment, where you can ask any question at any given time.” She’s currently president of an accountability group made up of a small circle of trusted like-minded entrepreneurs. “It’s four or five people. We’re very open. We’re all here for the same purpose. If you feel you’re falling short, we’ll help.”
Even in an extremely trusted group — and even if you’re the one in charge, it’s important to stay true to your own goals and specific needs. “In today’s highly sensitive environment, it’s important that leaders specifically solicit, listen to, and be grateful for diverse opinions,” said Deloitte principal Joni Swedlund. Especially “since we apply our own filters to any situations.” It doesn’t matter what stage or position you’re at, trust your gut overall.
Here’s the thing, when you ask for advice, you admit vulnerability and show others that you can’t or choose not to do it all on your own. “It took me maybe five years to be confident in being an entrepreneur,” said Labaton. “Some people own it from day one. It took me time to get there. I was proud of myself, I just didn’t know how to accept praise — this is a good thing, this is who I am, this is what I do.”
It wasn’t until she started trying to promote her business that Labaton finally realized she’d been going about it all wrong. “I watched myself on video — I was blushing and stammering.” At one point she realized “I’m amazing, my product is amazing.” Labaton was challenged to create a new elevator pitch, and the more she heard it, the more she believed it. When she asks for advice now it isn’t born of insecurity, but rather soliciting input to help move her company forward.
When receiving advice from others, Swedlund believes that even those in leadership positions “do well to maintain perspective in determining what types of advice resonate the best.” And it doesn’t matter what stage you’re at because let’s face it — “not all advice is good, let alone wise.” Even if you can glean a nugget of something valuable from someone else’s input, it will have been worthwhile to ask.
Labaton was recently approached by a major international corporation for a potential partnership. “I know I’m good enough, but they’re pushing me to do something I want to do that I wouldn’t have done.” Labaton sought advice from friends and colleagues in various careers to understand how best to proceed. Even if it doesn’t work out, she knows the next one will. “I’m making this viable so that when the next company comes to me, I’m ready.”
If someone ends up giving you valuable advice, follow up and let them know how it went. Swedlund says “Don’t forget the importance of thanking your colleagues both personally and publicly for their counsel.” It both validates their input and gives them credit for their insights. It also makes them more inclined to help out the next time around.
Rachel Weingarten is a marketing & brand strategist and president of 729.marketing. She's a pop culture and trends analyst who frequently writes about business and style and the business of style. Rachel's a sometimes professor, teaching personal branding on the graduate and undergraduate levels. She leads corporate seminars on topics including evolving communication and spirituality in the workplace. Rachel is also the author of three award winning non-fiction books.