Don’t Advise Them, Guide Them


In the ongoing conversation between Baby Boomers and the generations who will take leadership positions in the future, there is a lot of noise about what generations x and y need. What they don’t need is long-winded advice.

You might remember being young in your career and trying hard to listen to those who came before you with all of their suggestions. What you really wanted was to try things out for yourself. You learned best by being guided through the experiences of winning and failing.

So all of you Baby Boomer leaders out there – are you giving advice or are you allowing generation X and Y to experience life and work?

You may think these younger generations don’t want to be mentored. That isn’t true; they just don’t want to be lectured. If you are doing nothing but giving advice, then you aren’t preparing them for what’s next, and they won’t be ready to step into your shoes when you move on. When you are only giving advice, chances are that they are barely listening. So instead of advising, try guiding instead.

Some questions you can ask to guide them

Guiding requires you to help others to call up their own solutions. In so doing, you mustn’t judge their answers, but rather lead and encourage them to try new things. So when you might think it’s time to give advice, consider starting with some of these questions instead (which can be modified to meet the specifics of their needs):

  • What has worked for you in the past?
  • What have you seen others do that you’d like to try?
  • Of all of the ideas you’ve put on the table here, what do you think you’d like to start with?

Help them to sketch out the small steps needed to get started. Guide them when things go wrong, and guide them again to get back up on their feet. Catch them doing things right and let them know they’re on the right track. Watch them grow and develop and be ready to take your place.


I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.

13 comments on “Don’t Advise Them, Guide Them

  1. Hi Mary,

    I fall in the generation X and you pinpointed what I need.

    I think giving advice is one of the favorite thing for all human beings regardless of generation. I have been buried in unsolicited advices several times in my life.

  2. Mary Jo,

    I guess I’m an early Gen Xer based on the dates, but I tend to think we worry far too much about identifying these things. I don’t really think people are all that different based on the generation in which they were born. I think our experiences are different, but the core of the person is basically the same. I agree with you that younger generations don’t want to be lectured, but honestly, who does? It just reminds me that while we’re all different, we’re all the same too. For me it boils down to the golden rule. When we treat others the way we want to be treated, many of these things just work themselves out.

    Instead of trying to differentiate ourselves based on perceived generational differences, we should be trying to figure out how we’re the same. I mean who doesn’t work better when they feel a kinship to those with whom they work? Our methods for getting things done may be different, but our end goal is success. Aren’t we all really more similar than we are different?

    I’m certainly not diminishing your very sound advice, but isn’t it possible that we put too much emphasis on differences, and not enough on our similarites? Perhaps if we approached it that way, a coaching/mentoring relationship would come naturally and the perceived need to lecture those with less experience would never enter the picture. Just a thought.

  3. Hi Ray, well said! And believe it or not, I absolutely agree with you, 100 percent. I tried to get that across in the second paragraph. I do think that the bigger the gap in ages, the more the senior person is tempted to lecture or to give advice; likewise, the more senior on the organizational chart may also be more tempted to lecture to the less senior. If I ever rewrite this, I will leave out the boomer, gen x and gen y references. In the end, people just want to be treated with respect – no matter their age.

  4. Mary, I couldn’t agree with you more. So many times I have been so annoyed by older generations trying to tell me what to do and how to do it, when in reality I would much rather have some guidance. I don’t need someone telling me what to do, I just want their opinion and wisdom to help shed some light on my situation. It seriously aggravates me when people do this to me. I think it is important for people to remember that sometimes were not looking for advice on what to do, we just want some guidance and inspiration. Thanks for the post and for acknowledging this.

  5. Thabo, I love the “sell don’t tell” analogy. Thanks.

    Amber, Thanks for adding your voice. I see it all the time – the older generation giving unsolicited advice. You’ve just illustrated how frustrating that can be!

  6. This is a great reminder, Mary Jo, that a well-formed question can hold more weight and wield more power than all the well meant pieces of (often unsolicited) advice put together. Thank you.

  7. I agree totally with your article. Input from baby boomers is always helpfull. I have learned to recieve input from various sources, but I tend to give baby boomers less credit for their entitlement mentallity.

  8. As a baby boomer I have learned to follow the advice of Mark Twain and that is “Never give advice, wise men (and women) don’t need and fools won’t listen”.

  9. Maybe as a manager I do not want to wait for someone to learn from there mistakes especially if I have done it myself and waste my and my companys valuable time. Whatever happened to doing what you are told, you can do what you want on your own time and money.

  10. Good afternoon Mme Asmus,

    I had occasion to hire,coach and train a young team recently and the easiest would be to lecture. It is much harder to sit back, let them find their way and answer their questions. I also was in a position to learn from watching them and get inspired from how easily they learn from just a bit of guidance and mentoring.

  11. Gwyn, thank you!

    Norm, how sad that you give less credibility to baby boomers (I am one :)).

    Michael, thank you for the quote; its a new favorite of mine.

    Dave, what happened is that many people don’t want to be told anymore. They want to figure it out for themselves, and there is a lot of data to indicate that this is how adults learn best.

    Manon, that is is a great story. Good for you for recognizing the best way to deal with the situation (even when it was hard to do). Thanks for sharing it!

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