Advice That Resonates

“Advice is always great but it must resonate with the recipient.”

Did Abraham Lincoln or Albert Einstein say this? No. My mother—who has managed and mentored hundreds of people over five decades in law offices from Los Angeles to New York to London—said it.

Her words buoyed me as I mulled over some advice I’d received from a business consultant I’d hired. Usually, I am the one doling out marketing and branding counsel to my school clients.

I like and admire my consultant, but everything she was telling me sent off warning signals. I struggled during our conversation to listen to her ideas with an open mind. Was her advice giving me a needed push or was it more important to listen to my gut?

One of the thoughts that popped up for me was: “Is this how I approach my clients?” Just as she did, I always tell them I’m on their side. Just as she did, I offer them opportunities for growth and more success.

One of my clients once said of me, “She doesn’t suffer fools.” Do I dish the same kind of “tough love” as my consultant was serving up to me? I hope not. The thing about tough love is that it can be just that—tough to chew, rough to swallow. If a client is choking on it, shouldn’t the consultant back off?

In our business we are often trying to convince students and their families to take a risk—choose a school that will be transformative. One of the best school admission deans I’ve ever worked with always told prospective students that the best school for them was likely the one that gave them butterflies—not the one that felt safe and comfortable.

As a brand storyteller, I push my clients to be braver. Not for the sake of being edgy or clever. I’m talking about the bravery of putting into the world a distinct point of view. So often schools lack a particular attitude about their purpose and mission. I want them to push past safe to what’s thrilling about their missions and their communities.

Honing in on a distinctive brand message can be butterfly inducing, but in my experience when the advice is right, clients meet that advice with excitement. You can feel the buzz of possibilities in the room when new ideas are presented. Even if there is some trepidation, all are willing to go out on a limb, where, as Mark Twain said, the fruit is.

A great consultant also feels when the room tightens, freezes, pushes back—something my consultant did not seem to sense. In that situation, compromise is not what you’re looking for. Rather, you’re looking for the consultant who will listen deeply. Who will not push you out on a limb but will see another better branch, laden with more resonant fruit.