What? You’re probably thinking “What are you smoking, Danna?” I’m serious. I’m referring to a Devil’s Advocate. The fact of the matter is, success doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There are three things every business leader should know to help increase their success. The first is to understand where the weaknesses are within the organization. Secondly, know your numbers, and finally accepting that you don’t have all of the RIGHT answers every time. Having an advocate is probably the most important asset to succeeding in business.

“Yes,” people are great motivators for moving forward but are not the best at protecting what is yours. Having “no” people (Individual or group) on your team that you trust and can confide in will go a long way in getting you to take a step back and evaluate before making critical decisions. These are people who do not have obligatory reasons for agreeing with you but can see the writing on the wall that you may not. These advocates can come in the form of a mentor, business coach, or consultant.

So, how do you avoid falling into the “yes” man trap?

  • Don’t hire people who tell you what you want to hear.
  • Hire people who are smarter than you – these employees will take the day-to-day burden off of your shoulders.
  • Create a management team of people who are going to push back and play the devil’s advocate.

A devil’s advocate job is not easy.

As a devil’s advocate, the balance between maneuvering ego and passion is tenuous. I can tell you that I have had many disagreements with my advocate on my vision for MarketAtomy. In fact, many have involved my BIG Vision of making a positive dent in the number of failed businesses in the US. Although I have stuck to my guns and managed to gain their support on the long-term vision, my advocates have helped in objective and tactical decisions for reaching that vision.

When you start a business from the ground up, you put all of your blood, sweat, tears, and money into that business. It’s hard to hear that your baby is ugly or not viable. As an advocate, it’s your responsibility to deliver unpleasant news tactfully. Listen to the arguments for and against and be prepared with data or statistics to back up your statements. The way I convinced my advocates to change their minds about my long-term vision, was to present data outlining the residual results of a decrease in the number of small business failures both nationally and personally. I also brought in expert contributors directly involved in small business at the State and Municipal level. So as a leader, you have to figure out the difference between the motivation of the advocate. Is the advocate pushing for change for change’s sake, or do they want to make change because it’s the right thing to do?

How do you decipher between change for change’s sake and change that will make a difference?

First, put your ego aside, as difficult as it may be at the time. You may cry, get angry, and need to drown your sorrows in a glass of wine. You may even question whether you have wasted your time and money over the past many, many months. However, if your advocate is truly worth their salt, so to say…they are not shooting down your vision or idea, but rather looking to convince you to look at a possible pivot that might return a more positive outcome.

How you can receive the feedback is to pull up your grown-up pants and follow these steps:

  1. Listen. Listen actively and take into what is really being said without interrupting. Consider their opinion without making it personal.
  2. Back up your position. Like I did with my advocate, back up your opinion with data and experts. Chances are your advocate has not considered your opinion from your standpoint.
  3. Ask yourself, “Does it fit with our Vision?” Great ideas don’t always fit with the visions for the company. The fastest way to fail in business is to stray from the overall Vision.
  4. Use “Yes, and…” Acknowledging what you heard to avoid miscommunication and angry exchanges. Agree with the suggestion and open a collaborative dialogue to discuss further. Keep in mind that the ultimate decision is yours. The advocate is there to encourage you to take a step back and re-evaluate your decision.
  5. Concede defeat. If the situation proves to favor the advocate, don’t be afraid to acknowledge it and admit that you may have been wrong or not thoroughly informed.

MarketAtomy has worked with hundreds of small business owners over the past 10+ years to assist in fine-tuning business modeling and vision clarification. We are available for strategic planning on a per campaign basis or for holistic business growth efforts. Go to marketatomy.com for more information on the many services and products we offer.

MarketAtomy, LLC is a growth development-learning environment for small and medium business owners with one goal in mind…to empower them with the tools and knowledge needed to build their business on a rock-solid foundation. Through foresight and fortitude, entrepreneurial dreams become a reality. For more information, please visit marketatomy.com. Visit MarketAtomy.Academy to find out about the only Learning Management System developed for early-stage business growth.

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