Bad Advice

I recently attended a wedding in which the priest’s marriage message referenced the book With Love and Prayersby F. Washington Jarvis (2010) – specifically, a chapter titled “Bad Advice.” I loved it because the point of both the book and the message was to avoid bad advice that many of us have been given throughout our lives.

The three pieces of bad advice the priest referenced are the following, and hopefully you’ll immediately see why this well-intended advice typically doesn’t serve us well.

  1. All things in moderation
  2. Play it safe
  3. Be tolerant

Admittedly, all three of these sound good and have some limited application, but more often they hold us back and keep positive change from happening.

All Things in Moderation

Yes, this is a phrase that I’ve often used, but I now realize the error of my ways. As pointed out in With Love and Prayers, following this advice is a recipe for living a life of mediocrity. I’m sure you can all come up with examples where excess has gotten you into trouble, but when you think about the areas of your life that matter most (e.g. family, relationships, dreams, leadership, etc.) you’ll quickly see how moderation is holding you back.

Another way to describe “all things in moderation” is to think about the idea of playing small, and the opposite mindset is living and leading big and bold. Do you really want to live your life by loving, caring and serving in moderation? Do you really want to lead by communicating, empowering and growing people in moderation? Do you really want to pursue your goals and dreams in moderation?

All things in moderation sounds good, but it is bad advice.

Play It Safe

There are many different ways that we can play, live and lead safe, and they are all related to avoiding or minimizing risk. Like moderation, playing it safe has some limited application (e.g. not taking unnecessary physical risks, taking reasonable precautions, etc.), but playing it safe in your life and leadership is yet another recipe for mediocre outcomes and impact (if any).

I’m not suggesting that you live and lead recklessly, but I am offering that playing it safe comes from a perspective that safety is required because the world is somehow dangerous. It’s not – the world is filled with opportunities, and most of them require risk in order to take advantage of them. If you want genuine and loving relationships, you must take the risk of being genuine and loving (which involves vulnerability). If you want to build trust as a leader, you must be willing to be authentic and vulnerable (which involves risk). If you want to achieve impact, playing it safe is not the answer.

Once again, playing it safe can sound like good advice, but it is ultimately bad advice.

Be Tolerant

This is perhaps the trickiest of these pieces of bad advice because tolerance has an important place in one area – differences. I support and embrace being tolerant when it comes to withholding judgments of others and respecting certain differences (e.g. race, religion, values, etc.). However, I’ve discovered that our levels of tolerance in other areas are keeping us from our greatest outcomes and impact.

In the past year I’ve shared this leadership truth with thousands of leaders:

“Your leadership and impact is not defined by what you preach,

but by what you tolerate.” 

What you tolerate with your team or organization becomes the culture and is its most limiting factor. The same is true when you look at what you tolerate in your personal relationships. There are many reasons that we choose to tolerate certain behaviors, but the reasons don’t change or diminish the impact of the tolerance.

Think about the impact of tolerance in our own culture when many of us stand by and remain silent when we see injustice, unfair treatment, abuse of many kinds, etc. We don’t need more tolerance – we need more intolerance.

Yes, keep space open for tolerance when it comes to our differences, but in everything else be less tolerant, be more courageous and stand up for yourself, your culture and others around you. Be the change in the world and generally ignore this bad advice.

These three pieces of advice are not new, and many of us grew up with all or most of them – all well intended, and still bad advice. Now is the time for shift. Now is the time for change. Now is the time for courage. Now is the time to dump this bad advice and instead embrace the opposite. Play big and bold. Take risks in the things that matter. Speak up, stand up and be intolerant. Time for some new advice to change things for the better in every part of our lives.

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