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Passion, People and Principles

Do You Have a Trusted Advisor?

post # 377 — May 16, 2007 — a Client Relations post

Among the topics that I still speak (and consult) about regularly is that of being a trusted advisor to one’s clients (the topic of my co-authored 2000 book.)

I think that one of the reasons that interest in the topic doesn’t seem to diminish is that true trusted advisors seem to still be scarce.

As a test of this, I ask my audiences what I ask YOU now: Is there anyone you have hired who serves as your trusted advisor?

If the answer is yes, I’m (eternally) curious about two things. First, what are the specific kinds of things they do (or did) that made you accept them as your trusted advisor? (I know the theory — I’m interested in YOUR real world practical experience.)

Second, I’ll be curious to find out which practitioners (in general) seem to have earned trusted advisor status most frequently. Has it been it your doctor, lawyer, accountant, broker, consultant, PR person or some other?

Maybe I’ll sneak in a third question to solicit your input: as time goes by, are you finding it easier or harder to find professionals you trust?


Jim said:

So my first offer on this subject I first learned from one of my personal trusted advisors. Trust has two parts: trust in intention and trust in competence. I learned that from Jerry Weinberg – a guy I listen to very carefully all the time, who’s advice I take some of the time.

That leads to the second thought. A trusted advisor is conditional, depending on context. Sometimes someone’s agenda may not line up with mine. Sometimes it will. Sometimes someone’s skills may line up with the problem at hand. Sometimes they won’t, as with my parents when I was pursuing higher education. I was naive and incompetent to work the system. They were incompetent to help me work the system. Our intentions had little to do with it. A third consideration is resources. My favorite advisor may be crazy right now – it happens to the best of them. Maybe they stubbed their toe. Maybe they were trapped on a JetBlue flight for three or four days (thus confessing any number of terrorist activities they had nothing to do with, just to Make It Stop, but I digress.)

That last is often the most important consideration. Under stress many times someone’s brains go running out their ears. Your mother can’t always give you the best advice because she so wants you to be OK (for many but not all mothers out there.) She’s too wrapped up in the situation given her intentions to use her competence. Virginia Satir – another one of my trusted advisors, unfortunately for me second hand – called this high potential or high pot. A lot of advice is hard to take in if you are too beat down. That’s actually just an effective and important mechanism wired in to us. When you’re not set up so your brain can work well, fall back to habit, and look to protect yourself. Take chances when you have all your resources handy.

posted on May 18, 2007

Ashutosh Wakankar said:


Besides the stuff you distinguished in the Trusted Advisor, oen of the qualities that increasingly I am beginning to value is the availability of the advisor i.e. the access at the moment one needs it and then the time they have to deal with my situation so that I am left with genuine answers. The two best advisors I have encountered in the last few years have been in the area of financial advisory. Both have this remakable quality of building a case but never creating an urgency to sign up for something. At the end, one feels one owns the decision.

As far as your last question goes, I have seen the number of trusted advisors growing in my life. Could be because of two reasons- this market i.e. India is just beginning to get in touch with world-class professional standards and hence from pure unreliable behavior, the so called advisors are beginning to value dependability as a proposition. Don’t think it does much to provide you any direction.

However, the other aspect I have a hunch about is that one tends to encounter the kind of professional advisors similar to one’s personality. I am struggling to articulate this but I feel that the kind of advisors we tend to attract has a lot to do with how we ourselves are as people. If i am a person who operates from trust rather than power, embody acertain level of competence, oneself being a reliable person etc., exactly similar kind of advisors are likely to show-up in my life!

The kind of advisory network we have around us is a good relfection of our own personalities, has been my experience.

posted on May 19, 2007

Stuart Cross said:


It’s nearly a week since you posted this thread, and there are only two previous replies. I think this indicates that there aren’t too many trusted advisers around! As someone aspiring to be a “trusted advisor” it is something of a concern………………

Although I don’t have anyone I consider a true “trusted advisor” yet, I do have a couple of guys who I rate a lot higher than most. To answer your specific questions:

  • They are finance people, with expertise that I don’t have
  • They were introduced to me by someone I trust implicitly
  • The reasons I trust them more than others include, the fact that they offered help and support before asking for paid work, they gave me options and solutions that didn’t necessarily advance their short-term earnings, they have done nothing untoward that might make me think that my friend’s recommendation was inappropriate.

Hope this helps


posted on May 22, 2007

David Kirk said:

Firstly, great take on the problem “How do I become my client’s trusted advisor” – made me really think about what it would take for someone to become my trusted advisor. Makes it seem discouragingly difficult at first. I have only one.

After finding and discarding several doctors, I have found one that I trust. Differences perhaps from a lawyer of financial consultant, but there are parallels

  1. Excellent bedside manner – looks and feels the part of a caring, skilled doctor. Now, so far this is just superficial, but it is usually required to get people to “give you a go”. Not the most self-actualising of approaches, but a quality first impression and professional manner will sometimes open the door a crack to allow the relationship to build. Don’t imagine it ever slammed any doors shut.
  2. Listens to what I have to say. In detail. Then asks more questions. He takes the time. It is comforting to feel that the doctor (read “consultatant” or whatever suitable replacement) doesn’t automatically assume I am just like every other patient. I feel unique and, while in all likelihood I have the exact same complaints and problems as 4 out of the last 5 patients, I don’t want to feel that the specifics of my situation are being assumed away. Doesn’t feel like he’s in a rush to get to the next patient, his round of golf or his lunch. He’s not billing by the hour, and it doesn’t seem like he is on a revenue-maximising push from the get-go.
  3. He answers my questions clearly, in simple terms that I understand, without being patronising or trying to impress with fancy words and terms. He appears to prefer me to understand to not understand (I take particular pride in this myself, but have people I consider friends who prefer to maintain the appearance of an insurmountable knowledge-gap).
  4. He gives me advice, explains why it is important, presents the evidence and his case, makes sure I know what his position is, then doesn’t force me to accept his view, doesn’t wash his hands of me because I still don’t find the time to go to gym often enough and because I’m still working too hard.

It doesn’t hurt that he a) remembers my name or b) looks it up in time on my card and greets me as if he remembers my name.

Result? I go back to him (repeat business), I introduced my girlfriend-at-the-time to him (recommendations and referrals, such strong sources of new business), I would feel awful to pay my bill late (since he treats me so well and does exactly what I need from a doctor) and, although he is not the cheapest doctor in my area, I would go to him regardless of any vaguely reasonable consultation fee.

posted on May 29, 2007

Dorian said:

I have recently joined the firm, as a Director of Operations. My first forray in to Professional Services Firm. We have recently discovered that we were billing some of our top consultants at a lower rate, although we announced to our cleint that the rates went up. Our accounting system never changed.

The view here is that you can not go back and re-billed the balance. On the surface, this seems proper, but I just can’t help but think that there must be a way to collect some of the moneys. This could have a potential impact of 100K

Your thoughts and comments will be much appreciated.



posted on June 6, 2007

David (Maister) said:

No, give it up. You can’t go back. Focus on the future.

posted on June 10, 2007