How To Build Your Advice and Counsel Network



“You know how advice is. You only want it if it agrees with what you wanted to do anyway.” — John Steinbeck

How do you build an effective support network for getting results?

To be an effective leader, you need a combination of technical advisers, cultural interpreters and political counselors.

You need your personal board of advisors to help you navigate the new landscape.

I think this is a particularly important post. Too many people with great ideas, can’t get results because they don’t have an effective network. The other scenario is a great person with a great idea, has to work too hard. An effective network would help both scenarios.

In The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels, Michael Watkins writes about how you can build an effective support network.

Why Build an Advice-and-Counsel Network

Build a network of advisers in and outside of the team or organization you are in.  Cover your bases by having technical, cultural, and political advisers.

Watkins writes:

“No lead, no matter how capable and energetic, can do it all. You need a network of trusted advisers within and outside the organization with whom to talk through what you are experiencing.

Your network is an indispensable resource that can help you avoid becoming isolated and losing perspective.

As a starting point, you need to cultivate three types of advice givers: technical advisers, cultural interpreters, and political counselors.”

3 Types of Advice Givers

Watkins identifies the types of advice givers and how they help you:

    1. Technical advisers. Provide expert analysis of technologies, markets, and strategy. They suggest applications for new technologies. They recommend strategies for entering new markets. They provide timely and accurate information.
    2. Cultural interpreters. Help you understand the new culture and (if that is your objective) to adapt for it. They provide you with insight into cultural norms, mental models, and guiding assumptions. They help you learn to speak the language of the new organization.
    3. Political counselors. Help you deal with political relationships within your new organization. They help you implement the advice of your technical advisers. They serve as a sounding board as you think through options for implementing your agenda. They challenge you with what-if questions.

Assessment of Your Advice-and-Counsel Network

Watkins provides a table for assessing your advice-and-counsel network:

Technical Advisers Cultural Interpreters Political Counselors
Internal advisers and Counselors
(inside your new organization)
External Advisers and Counselors
(outside your new organization)

Criteria of An Effective Support Network

Watkins outlines an effective support network:

  • The right mix of technical advisers, cultural interpreters, and political counselors.
  • The right mix of internal and external advice-givers. You want honest feedback from insiders and the dispassionate perspective of outside observers.
  • External supporters who are loyal to you as an individual, not to your new organization of unit. Typically these are long-standing colleagues and friends.
  • Internal advisers who are trustworthy, whose personal agendas don’t conflict with yours, and who offer straight and accurate advice.
  • Representatives of key constituencies who can help you understand their perspectives. You do not want to restrict yourself to one or two points of view

Internal and External Advice Givers

Use a combination of internal and external advice-givers so that you don’t limit yourself to the internal view.

Watkins writes:

“You also need to think hard about the mix of internal and external advice-givers you want to cultivate. Insiders know the organization, its culture and politics.

Seek out people who are well connected and who you can trust to help you grasp what is really going on. They are a priceless resource. 

At the same time, insiders cannot be expected to give you dispassionate or disinterested views of events. Thus, you should augment your internal network with outside advisers and counselors who will help you work through the issues and decisions you are facing. T

hey should be skilled at listening and asking questions, have good insight into the way organizations work, and have your best interests at heart.”

Former Advisers May Not Be Helpful in Your New Role

Prepare ahead and put your counsel in place before you need it, so you can call upon your counsel when you need it.

Watkins writes:

“Will your existing network provide the support you need in your new situation? Don’t assume that people who have been helpful in the past will continue to be helpful in your new situation.

You will encounter different problems and former advisers may not be able to help you in your new role. As you attain higher levels of responsibility, for example, the need for good political counsel increases dramatically. 

You should also be thinking ahead. Because it takes time to develop an effective network, it’s not too early to focus on what sort of network you will need in your next job. How will your needs for advice change?”

Key Take Aways

Here are my key take aways:

  • Use technical advisers, cultural interpreters, and political counselors. This is a great breakdown. If you have the best of ideas, but you don’t have the political support, you won’t get your ideas implemented.
  • Include internal and external advisers. Keeping a set of external advisers will help you keep perspective. Otherwise, you can end up the frog in the boiling pot.
  • Don’t just rely on your past network. Situations change. Needs change. Evolve your network for your changing needs.
  • Build your network before you need it. While a friend in need is a friend indeed, building your support network ahead of time will help you avoid desperation. Also, building an effective network takes time.

If you want to be more effective, build a more effective network.

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