Pushy advising

Last Saturday, I served on a panel at the American Council on Education’s meeting of state coordinators for the ACE Women’s Network, which was held in Los Angeles.  The panel’s topic was “Stalled in the Pipeline:  Broadening Pathways for Women’s Success.”  The other panelists were Shelley Correll (sociology professor and director of a gender-research institute at Stanford University) and Daryl Smith (professor of education and psychology at Claremont Graduate University).  We talked about stereotypes of women and their impact on performance, about the concept of “pushy advising,” and the importance of identifying and developing leadership talent.

Daryl’s concept of pushy advising struck a particularly resonant chord with the attendees.  Many potential leaders are hesitant about moving to the next level in their organization, demurring with comments like “I’m not ready yet,” “I need more preparation,” or “The time isn’t right.”  Pushy advisors help people assess their skill levels and readiness — and encourage them to take the leap to the next opportunity.  This push can be invaluable in helping leaders grow and mature.  If we all waited until we were perfectly ready for the next leadership position, we could wait forever.

Knowing when to make a decision or take an action relates to one of the ways in which I believe geology provides an excellent background for leadership.  Geologists never have all the information we would like to have.  The materials that would provide the data we need can be weathered, melted, or eroded away.  The rocks may be buried too deep to reach, or they may exist on other planetary bodies.  Geologists have to accept they will never have all the data they need to solve a problem, but they learn to know when to make a decision or reach a conclusion with the data that are available.

Knowing when the available information is adequate, however incomplete, is a critical skill in leadership.  Good advisors can help us learn to identify this moment.

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