Guest post by Marua Kobayashi

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a senior leader in possession of a responsible position, must be in want of a strategic adviser.

Oh wait, sorry. I’m getting my 19th century English writers mixed up. But it does help me tell you a story of when I was let down by one of my supposed “strategic advisers”. As a result: he had to go.

Before I joined Globocorp I was a senior operations manager in a large company in Peru, my home country. I won’t say which company it was but I will give you a clue: Peru is known for two main industries and I hate fishing.

Anyway, to my story… and its lessons for the readers of this blog.

About a year before I left, we were in the throes of rolling out a new on-line management system for my division. I was the ultimate decision-maker. There was a project leader and an in-house team who were working with some developers to design and roll out the software. Everything was going well – we had  planning sessions and had been progressing to plan for a year. (Who knew it took so many people to make a decision and resolve the ‘small questions’? One of the reasons I left to join Globocorp, but that’s another story).

We were getting towards the end of the process – beta versions were bouncing around – when I had a great idea. Or as my friend, Carmen Spinoza, calls them “one of your ‘find the impossible solution and change the rules’ ideas”. I wish I knew her then; she would have advised me properly…. 

Instead I had a dolt of an adviser called Benjamín Wilkin, as project leader. His job title said “business partner” but, after what happened, I know his next business card said “desempleado”.

Looking back, I realised my great idea was going to make a transformational difference to the way we worked. But it did require a lot of effort, and (if I’m really honest) was probably better left for a future release. But I mentioned it in an off-hand way in a meeting with Ben – wouldn’t it be nice if…? – and the damage was done.

Turned out Ben gave my idea to the team as a direct instruction and next thing I know, we’re in a revision process, with people working until midnight, negotiations with key stakeholders about revised deadlines, extra developer fees and a lot of bad feelings all round.

I did that. 

I created that chaos. 

I created family arguments when people in my team had to work late.

I created extra cost. I made this mess.

Or did I?

Ultimately, I suppose I did. But I had no intention to. I just had an idea. I was brainstorming. But the law of unintended consequences always comes to bite you. In two ways.

First, I, as a leader, didn’t make it clear that I was brainstorming. So my ideas were taken as scripture and acted upon. I’m right a lot of the time but not always. I know now to be more clear about how I communicate.

Second, my so-called adviser didn’t advise. I was expecting sage counsel and guidance from Ben.

After all, he was the project owner and manager. A sensible adviser would have talked me through the likely consequences of my actions or at least helped me think about them. Wise counsel I was expecting or even a “that’s a very courageous decision, Marua”. Instead: nothing.

So, in effect, Ben caused the chaos. By shirking his duties.

Was he too afraid to say ‘no’? Did he secretly like creating lots of work and blaming me? Did he think about it and make a calculation and think that gaining a few reputation points with me was worth him losing loads with his team and the agency?

I doubt it. I suspect he didn’t think at all. By just implementing my brainstorming idea, he proved himself a waiter: stand and deliver. I’ve got enough waiters, thanks. (What do I mean by “waiter”? Check out the types of advisers post.) I thought Ben was a strategic adviser and senior project manager. Instead, by shirking his duties and not speaking truth to power, he failed his core responsibility.

So, reader, I fired him.

If you are a strategic adviser then do your job. Advise, counsel, guide, challenge, support, debate.

Your whole raison d’être is to add value via different perspectives and thinking. Yes, it can be hard sometimes to say no to a leader (this blog has talked elsewhere on that topic), but those days are the days you earn your money.

Yes-men and women are ten a peso. The real money is when you have someone – like Carmen is to me now – who can help me be a better leader.

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