Story Time: Leading with Trust in the C-Suite

When it comes to trust-building, stories are a powerful tool for both learning and change. Our new Story Time series brings you real, personal examples from business life that shed light on specific ways to lead with trust. Today’s anecdote zeroes in on being trustworthy in the C-suite.

A New Anthology

Our upcoming book, The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook: A Comprehensive Toolkit for Leading with Trust (Wiley, October 2011), contains a multitude of such stories. Told by and about people we know, these stories illustrate the fundamental attitudes, truths, and principles of trustworthiness. In the coming months, we’ll share a selection of stories from the new book with you.

Today’s story is excerpted from our chapter on selling to the C-suite. It vividly demonstrates the value of speaking directly, and asking questions that are simple and humble. (And if it leaves you wanting more, check out our eBook, “How to Sell to the C-Suite.”)

From the Front Lines: Asking a Simple Question

Paulo Novaes, a Senior Manager working in Mexico for a global consulting firm, tells a story about the power of asking questions.

“At the due diligence stage of selling to a global bank, I was gathering information on how they work: their existing skills and where the gaps might be. This was a company which traditionally did everything in-house, and we would be their first outsourcing partner.

“The executive in charge told me with great passion of all they had accomplished, the skills they had, and procedures they had put in place, and so on. It was impressive.

“I had to ask a simple, critical question: ‘Why do you need us?’

“Once the client recovered from his surprise, he came back with set of answers: ‘You have the experience, the methodology, the capability to add to all we have built. Also, yes, we are good, we are proud, and have reached a limit in efficiency, with what we can do by ourselves. We need an external partner to complement what we’ve done, who is able to design a solution to fit our needs.’

“The client sold himself on our services in that moment.

“What I learned: sometimes you have to ask basic questions. Simple and humble is often better. Rather than struggle to find what’s beneath the surface or between the lines, the best way to advance is to be as direct as possible—even at the risk of going against cultural norms. If you speak directly—in a polite manner and with respect—the customer will thank you. You are saving their time and getting a better result.”

—Paulo Novaes (Mexico)

That’s Paulo’s story. What makes a difference in the C-suite in your experience?