How to figure out if you can be a good advisor

Over the past year I've had the chance to be an "advisor" to several different organizations. There's lots of different types of advisory roles. The word advisor can cover all sorts of jobs:

  • Giving public endorsement
  • Being a consultant and doing work for hire.
  • Giving advice (but not necessarily being listened to.)
  • Managing/directing a project or group.
  • Getting public recognition as an "advisor" in exchange for doing work.

I'm not going to go into what being an advisor should be. However, I do think these are some of the questions you should ask if you are asked to be an advisor:

  1. What do you expect from me? What will my responsibilities be? This could range from making introductions, blogging, speaking on behalf of the organization, allowing them to use your name as an endorsement, managing a committee, … you just want to know what they expect before you sign up. The group asking you to be an advisor may not be able to articulate it but if you talk to them long enough, you might be able to figure it out.
  2. Will I be paid? I've had all sorts of experiences in this area. I've been paid well, I've not been paid for substantial amounts of work, I've had my travel covered and I've even received a surprise payment. Any of those is ok, as long as you agree to it.
  3. Who makes the decisions for the project I'm advising? Will that person be the one I talk to regularly? (And I strongly recommend that if you don't get to directly advise the people making the decisions and you will be publicly affiliated with the project, you should turn down the opportunity.)
  4. Is this group wanting to change? Why do they want an advisor? Is it for public perception reasons or are they committed to making change?
  5. Why does this group want an advisor now? Is there a particular issue they are facing? Is it one you can help with?
  6. Who else will be advising? Depending on all the other answers, it might be important to have other advisors who will reinforce your opinions or it might be important to have people that will offer a wide variety of opinions.
  7. What do you want the advisors to accomplish? Often I've found that the people seeking advisors already know the advice they want and just need help convincing others in their organization.

Anything else? What has been your experience?

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