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Giving advice

Updated: Nov 25, 2020

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Find me on twitter @LConnell20 with the hashtag #peersnotfears

It is important for us to be aware of our biases when we make decisions, but it is even more important for leaders to think about their biases when they are asked or are giving advice to others. In order for me to help my student leaders understand how hard it is to keep our biases out of the advice we give, I need to work on reflecting on how I let my biases influence things I say and do with my students.

There is a constant battle that we all face. How do we make the right choices? How do our children make the right choices? How do we help students make the right choices?

When anyone is seeking advice we go to the people that we trust the most; teachers, counselors and parents fall into that category, especially for teens. Middle and high school students may not understand what a true friend is, and since we also rely on our friends for advice, this is another key skill to work on with our student leaders.

If we can model aspects of how we, as teachers, make decisions, then our student leaders will be more mindful and reflective of the decisions they make and the advice they give their peers. We need to share with them how biases and certain motivations can influence how they make decisions.

I think about a student two years ago, I’ll call her Joan. Joan was perfect for peer leadership - she was kind, empathetic, motivated, and extremely smart. She applied for Peer Leadership as a sophomore, and I was eager for her to join the program. Her older sibling had been a peer leader, so I knew that she would come with good leadership skills and would enhance the program. Before even applying, she worked with Peer Leadership to bring awareness to mental health, reducing the stigma among the entire community of students and teachers. She was a big asset.

Joan came to me after schedules were distributed, and she asked me if she would be able to handle peer leadership and her academic classes. I told her that I thought she could - that she shouldn’t sell herself short. I told her she was a driven student, and would be successful in her academics, and this would only improve her skills in other areas. Can you see my biases?

I could have handled that differently. I could have told her that I was impressed that she was evaluating both the pros and the cons of doing it all, which is a difficult evaluation. Choosing between two great things is never easy. I already saw leadership qualities in her being able to know the type of commitment Peer Leadership would require, and the commitment for her academics. What I should have said was, “I think you can, but of course I am biased because I know how awesome you will be in this program. Whatever you decide, if you cannot be a full member of the class, I hope you find some opportunities to join us in some of our work, know that I think you have a lot to offer, and that Peer Leadership has some opportunities for you.”

My goal is to give us all ideas to empower students to be leaders - not just in a class built to teach those skills. Here are some ways you, and I, can do what I should have done with Joan, now that I have learned from that experience.

Leaders should be able to first reflect on our own biases and motivations.

So the next time you are asked to give some advice, especially from students, try this:

  1. Pause, and think about your biases or motivation.

  2. Share those biases and motivations, (even if they are personal), and

  3. Ask if the student wants your advice, before giving it.

If that makes you feel too vulnerable (which is huge in leadership), maybe just ask a question for them to answer, and do your best to keep your questions from leading in the direction of your biases or motivations.

Demonstrating this leadership skill can be an important and powerful tool for our students and children even if just to be able to evaluate pros and cons, and not just take advice on face value.

If this activity sounds like something you want to do, I encourage you to try it, and share this post with someone else. If you think the ideas I am sharing could be useful in a training session for you or your school - please contact me today for a discovery conversation to see if we are a good fit. I really want to spread the world with strong, confident leaders. I can work with teachers, students or your own children, there is really nothing we can’t try.

What are some of your biases that influence the advice you give?

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