Advice for a Trusted Advisor

Before advice can be offered to you, a trusted advisor, we have to be sure of our terms. They’re not as straightforward as they might seem. A lot of meaning is packed into those words trusted advisor, and if you’re going to be one and continue in that role, then it’s essential that you understand fully what we’re talking about.

Trust

The first word is trusted. Its root is trust.

What is trust? It’s an attitude that’s tied to a belief which causes you to act in a particular way. That way will be different from what it would be if you didn’t trust – if you didn’t believe.

Here’s an example. You’ve probably heard this one already. Take a plank of wood. Set it on the floor. Would you be willing to walk from one end to the other? Probably. No real reason not to, if only to make a point.

Now raise the same plank by fifty feet. Are you willing to walk from one end to the other again? Why not? It’s the same plank, and your abilities are as just as good. So what’s changed? You no longer trust your ability to do so safely. The result? Your behaviour changes. You decide that in the interest of self-preservation that it would be better not to.

There’s a lesson here: If you want to know what people trust in, then always look at their behaviour. Look at the outcome. You can always recognize what they really believe on the basis of what they do. This is as true of them as it is of you.

Trusted

What does it mean to be trusted? To be trusted means that someone believes that you can be believed. It means that that person is confident that the quality of trust is something that you possess.

How did you get to be trusted? Simply by acting in a manner that demonstrated that you were, and by failing to give any indication that you were anything else. In other words, you proved yourself to be trustworthy. You established a reputation for it.

Advisor

What is an advisor? It’s someone who suggests what another should do. We have to be careful here. Advisors, in and of themselves, are neutral. There’s no reference to motive. Only when personal motives are considered can we know if we should trust the advice or the person who gives it. Even this, however, is not enough.

Aren’t all advisors trusted, or trustworthy? No.

Sun-tsu, general, military strategist, and author of The Art of War (© 400 BC) is alleged to have said that you should “keep your friends close and your enemies closer”. The idea is that if you want to know what your enemies are thinking, then you need to keep them close enough so that you can be forewarned of their intentions. If you know in advance when the personal motivations of others are not in your best interests, then you’re in a better position to protect yourself than you would be if you were surrounded by your friends, or those who simply agreed with you all the time.

Good & bad advice

Advisors who are not trustworthy can give good advice. This is what counter-espionage is based upon: giving some credible information in order to lay the groundwork for a larger deception.

Good advisors, however, can give bad advice even when they have good intentions. Their desire to help you doesn’t prevent them from doing so, but neither does it guarantee that they will.

So advisors can be trusted to give good or bad advice from pure or selfish motives. Motives will help you interpret the veracity of the advice; but it won’t necessarily tell you which is best for your situation.

Why do we trust anyone?

Why do we trust anyone? Or, why don’t we trust everyone?

The problem is with consistency, or the lack of it.

When you observe the same behaviour over and over again, you come to expect it. There was a time when we did trust people to do ordinary things like pay their bills on time, do their best, and act honestly in business. Those who didn’t were the exception rather than the rule.

Today, it’s the other way around. You can be accused of being too honest, for example. If you do your best, those around you will say that you’re trying to make them look bad, and rather than pay bills on time, for example, accountants encourage us to wait until the last possible moment or to try to weasel out of paying altogether. In fact, things have gotten so bad that trust has become a virtue instead of an expected business practice.

Think of the euphemism that “the cheque is in the post”. In Italy, it’s worse. Business people will quite often present their invoices in person, and even then they are as likely to get some argument about what they’re being charged for.

Big & small things

There’s something else that needs to be said about trustworthiness, and that is that if you can be trusted with small things, then you will be trustworthy with increasingly bigger things. You see, big or small is relative. It depends on who you ask. A really good example of this is with rental property. Though there are exceptions, generally speaking those who rent don’t take care of a property as well as they would if they owned it. But, those who have owned their own homes in the past tend to take better care of the house they rent than those who never owned at all. The idea that dirty renters will all of a sudden become clean owners is not true. Our habits do not change overnight.

Proof

If you want to be a trusted advisor, then you must prove that you are. You have to make sure that there’s no misunderstanding. This is your responsibility. You can’t assume that people will just “know” or that it’s their problem if they don’t. The truth is that it’s your problem until they do.

Your motives have to be pure and be seen as such. You must be as dependable as the sunrise, without exception. If people can’t depend on you, then you’re not trustworthy. It’s as simple as that.

And there can be no deception, half-truths, or obfuscation. You must always act in the best interests of those who trust you.

Trustworthiness takes time to earn, but can be lost in a heartbeat. Give yourself wholly to it, and you will continue to be a trusted advisor.

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