Are You a Trusted Advisor?

The phrase “trusted advisor” has almost become a cliché. Since I co-wrote the book on the subject, I have some standing to say that. And to say a few other things about it. So I think I will.

First, ubiquity. Today’s “trusted advisor” of popularity metrics—a google word count—shows “about 706,000." Digg—the new kid on the block—shows 292 pages at 15 per page, for a total of 4,380 entries.

But that’s just mentions. When it comes to assertions that so and so is, or wants to be, “your trusted advisor,” it gets interesting. Let’s start with the oddity of a website, declaring to the indeterminate masses, that its author is your trusted advisor. Brings to mind such chestnuts as “I’m from the IRS and I’m here to help you…”

But boldly going where many have gone before, a full 39,500 Google entries contain “your trusted advisor.” Who, pray tell, are these noble souls?

Well, would you believe Rudy Giuliani? The law firm of Bracewell & Giuliani (when he joined in in 2005 it was Bracewell & Patterson) pens a newsletter called Your Trusted Advisor. It’s about things like estate planning. (I wonder if Patterson trusted Rudy…)

There’s Morales & Associates, an insurance broker-dealer firm whose website is called YourTrustedAdvisor.com . The website (or Bob?) genially says, “Thank you again for visiting ‘Your Trusted Advisor.’” You’re welcome, uh, Bob.

FutureNow, a website design company, says, “An engine ‘hitting on all cylinders’ best illustrates the look and feel of the unique relationships we have with clients who have hired us as Trusted Advisors.”

Huh? You can hire trusted advisors? Apparently so. Craigslist has 80 job descriptions that contain “trusted advisor.” Tom Gegax says, “Retain Tom as your trusted advisor; Tom Gegax is a trusted advisor to CEOs and business owners around the world.” He must be, because he says so, and he’s a trusted advisor.

The Alberta Business Family Institute teaches a program called, fittingly, the Trusted Advisor Program. It “provides the skills and knowledge needed to enhance an advisor’s role to be the most trusted.” Hmmm, skills and knowledge. Kind of like getting a CPA, I guess.

An awful lot of financial people are your trusted advisor, but it’s not an exclusive club. GMAC Real Estate has 22,000 agents, one of whom is Brian Matthews, your trusted advisor.

You also have a trusted advisor in the feed business. And you’re in luck if you need someone to trust in broadband services.

Nobody owns the term, least of all me. But for what it’s worth, let me offer a few thoughts.

1. The two most trust-destroying words you can say are, “trust me.” Never say you’re someone’s trusted advisor, much less say you want to be, much less build an ad campaign around it. It is inherently non-credible and insincere. (I try on my own website—which of course uses the term—to say "helping people become trusted advisors"—and not to claim that I are one).

2. Trust worth the name has a personal component to it. Impersonal trust isn’t quite an oxymoron, but if it relies on credibility or dependability alone, it has more in common with predicting the weather than with being a trusted advisor.

3. The deepest trait of a trusted advisor is focus on the other, not on oneself. Low self-orientation. Not in it just for oneself. Driven by connection, not competition. Someone who actually, really, genuinely cares—just because. Caring, I suggest, is at the heart of the matter.

Care to rate yourself? Take the quiz here. Don’t forget to click on the “interpretation” button to see everyone’s results, and my comments on the test.

What do you think? What is a trusted advisor? Is the term getting overused? And what does that mean for trust?

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