As the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Taking the gist of this famous proverb, you could just as well say that the road to failure in business is paved with ‘good’ advice.
The problem with business advice is that there is just so much of it about. Especially in the modern digital age, whatever questions you have, whatever issues you are facing, all it takes is a quick Google search and you can find endless reams of wisdom on every topic imaginable.
All of it well intentioned, of course. But how much of it is actually useful? It’s become another skill you need in business these days – sound judgement on the authorities to trust and where to find advice worth listening to.
The flipside of that is knowing what you can safely overlook. With that in mind, here are three common pieces of business advice that don’t really do anyone favours.
Always trust your gut instincts
It’s one of the great old saws of business that the most successful people have an uncanny ability to make the right decisions at the right time. Somehow they ‘just know’, and this is usually explained away as having the confidence to trust in their instincts.
Sound judgement and courage of convictions are of course important skills to have in business. But prudent decision-making has very little to do with anything as wishy-washy as ‘gut instinct’ and everything to do with knowledge and experience. And with the progress of digitisation, you have to wonder why anyone would entrust their decision-making to their guts when they have access to cold hard data and powerful analytics tools to help them make sense of it.
Leadership is all about having a handle on everything in your business
This is a line of thinking that seems to stem entrepreneurship, when people start out as sole traders literally doing everything for their business and then find it difficult to let go of the reins as it grows bigger. Or it suits the personality of micro-managing types.
A polar opposite view on the art of management is that leadership is all about delegation – about making a conscious effort not to stick your nose into everything and instead make it your job to enable others to succeed.
Two things recommend this approach over the former. One, it is less likely to lead to complete burn out. Second, business is fundamentally about relationships between people. Trusting colleagues to play their part rather than trying to control everything is much more likely to lead to a healthy team environment in which people are motivated to succeed.
The bottom line is all that matters
This is one that is bound to cause some eyebrow raising. But of course the bottom line is all that matters – what’s the purpose of business if it isn’t to make money?
The importance of revenue, cost efficiency, profit margins and all the rest isn’t in dispute. But what can be debated is how financial circumstances are used as a barometer of business success, especially over time.
One consequence of obsessively banging the bottom line drum is that you start to use the balance sheet as a determinant factor in day-to-day decision making. Thinking becomes reactive and short term. You lose sight of the bigger picture of what is healthy and what success looks like in the long term because you’re jumping at every little blip in your margins. Strategy gets cast aside as you get caught up in a game of chasing numbers.