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Three Things You Need to Know About Trust: Part 2

There are really only three things you need to know about trust. You can pretty much deduce the rest. The three parts are:

  1. Trust is a Two-player Game
  2. Trust Requires Risk
  3. Trust is Reciprocal

Part 2: Trust Requires Risk.

First, there is no trust without risk. Second, only one player takes the risk; this sets up a particular dynamic.

No Trust Without Risk

Ronald Reagan was blowing smoke when he famously said, “Trust, but verify.”  The truth is, if you have to verify, it’s not trust. If it’s trust, then it’s not about verification. (Tellingly, Lenin was fond of the same phrase).

At one extreme, trust is bordered by blind faith, which is unbounded by data or reason. At the other, we have statistics, where risk is strictly a matter of probabilities and assumptions, governed by the rules of mathematics.

Trust lies curiously in between faith and probability – and a little off the straight and narrow of the continuum as well.  A psychological relationship, it involves one party willingly putting itself in harm’s way of the other, with a significant but not perfectly quantifiable chance that the other may abuse the situation. No wonder we speak of it often with metaphors.

People say trust mitigates risk. That’s true, but it’s also true that risk creates trust. Without risk-taking, there can be no trust. We forget this when we try to create trust by eliminating risk.

Why is this important? If you remove temptation or risk, you create an artificial dependence outside of the critical trust relationship. For example, if you render financial institutions completely non-risky by over-doing tick-box compliance, you will also choke off trust. Trust eats risk for breakfast, and becomes stronger for so doing.

As with many things trust-related, this is paradoxical. Trust reduces risk, but it also thrives on risk. Robotic safety and predictability are components of trust, but small ones. A completely mechanical world may be risk-free, but it’s also trust-free.

One Player Takes the Risk

In its pure form, one party trusts, while the other is trusted. In my classes, it’s a running joke I play: would you rather get better at trusting? Or at being trusted? So far, every class has opted to get better at being trusted. Doh! That’s the non-risky choice.

It’s human nature to wish others to take the risk. Sometimes, we’re lucky. The other person asks us out first; the customer shows their hand first, reducing our fears about price; the interviewer shares something personal about themselves, setting us at ease.

If you’re willing to run your business dependent on the kindness of strangers, that’s fine. But if you prefer to make your own luck – or trust – you’re going to have to learn to take risks. As Wayne Gretzky said, you’ll never miss a shot you don’t take; but of course, you’ll never score a goal either.

One of the biggest barriers to trusting is the cult of trustworthiness. The professions in particular like to cloak themselves in the idea of a Trusted Advisor that is strictly about trustworthiness – but not about trusting.  Such ideas include the high-minded virtues of integrity, tell-it-like-it-is courage, and a professional remove. But they frequently don’t encompass vulnerability and emotional risk-taking.  They should.

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In the third part, I’ll talk about the reciprocity of trust – how the role of trustor and trustee gets traded back and forth, and what that means for the development of trust.

Three Things You Need to Know About Trust: 1 of 3

There really are only three things you need to know about trust. You can pretty much deduce the rest.

I’m going to write about each of them in a separate blogpost, but here’s the one-liner version of each:

  1. Trust is a Two-player Game
  2. Trust Requires Risk
  3. Trust is Reciprocal

If you understand those three points, you can figure out things like trust recovery, rapid trust creation, and trust-enhancing cultures.

Trust is a Two-Player Game

For trust to exist, one party must do the trusting, and the other party must be trusted. That sounds dirt-simple, until you pick up the paper and realize how much talk about trust simply doesn’t mention it.

How many articles and surveys have you read that talk about “trust” as if it were some simple, unitary phenomenon?  Answer: most.

Those articles that say “trust is down,” “trust in banks has declined,” “people I know are more trusted–” all suffer one great defect: they don’t tell you why the trust is up or down.

It’s simple, if you ask the question correctly. If surveys show that trust in banking is down, is that because banks have become less trustworthy? Or because people have become less inclined to trust? One is a problem of ethics and trustworthiness; the other is a problem of risk-taking, education and fear.

You can’t design policies or laws or actions if you don’t know which problem you’re trying to solve.

If you can’t directly address trusting and trustworthiness, then measures of “trust” alone can’t be trusted – they could be influenced by exogenous factors like GDP growth.  And they are.

Trusting and Being Trusted

Trusting is about intelligent risk-taking.  Being trusted is about trustworthiness.

When someone says trust is really an issue of character or integrity, they’re talking about being trusted, not about trusting.

And when someone says, “trust but verify,” they’re talking about trusting, not about being trusted. (Though notice: if you have to verify – it’s not really trusting).

When you talk about trust in your organization, or with your clients or customers, you would probably prefer that others get better at trusting – to save you the trouble of getting more trustworthy!

We don’t have a lot of control over others’ propensity to trust, though we can certainly influence it.  But we have a lot of control over being trusted. And by far the best way to be trusted is to simply be trustworthy. One way to think about that is through the Trust Equation.

Trust is a Relationship

Trust is a relationship? Well, that’s what being a “2-player game” means. Before you think this is another “Doh” moment, note what it implies. It means the absence of trust is the absence of a relationship. It means when we think about business outside the framework of relationship, we are not thinking about trust.

What do market share, competitive advantage, markets, cost reduction, and value chains have to do with relationships? Not much. And therefore they have little to do with trust.

One driver of the level of trust is, simply, how we view business. Our view of business for the last several decades has been about competition, not about collaboration; about opposition, not about relationship.

A big reason those articles show that “trust is down” is because we have stopped thinking about relationships, and focused instead on competitive marketplaces.

Wanna know why trust is down? Start with the absence of relationships.

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Next post: Trust Requires Risk

The Three Ps of Trust

Trust is a complex concept in human relationships. In our Chapter 1 of the still-pretty-new The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook, we explore ten fundamental attitudes that take aim at the complexities of trust, breaking it down so that it can be managed and more readily increased. Think of the Three Ps as the short list; they represent the core of our thinking on trust.

Trust is Personal

When trust is discussed, it usually refers to people. Yes, you can trust a company, but when you do, you are typically focusing on just one part of trust—dependability. It makes perfect sense to say a company or organization is dependable or reliable. It does not make much sense to say that a corporate entity has your best interests at heart or is sensitive to your needs, or is discreet. Those are things you would usually say about people. Even when it does make sense to say an organization is credible or careful or focused on your interests, the reference is usually to the people in it. At root, trust is personal.

Trust is Paradoxical

Over and over again, you will discover that the things that create trust are the opposite of what you may think. That is why we say trust is paradoxical—in other words, it appears to defy logic. The best way to sell, it turns out, is to stop trying to sell. The best way to influence people is to stop trying to influence them. The best way to gain credibility is to admit what you do not know.

The paradoxical qualities of trust arise because trust is a higher-level relationship. The trust-creating thing to do is often the opposite of what your baser passions tell you to do. Fight or flight, self-preservation, the instinct to win—these are not the motives that drive trust. The ultimate paradox is that, by rising above such instincts, you end up getting better results than if you had striven for them in the first place.

Trust is Positively Correlated to Risk

Ronald Reagan, the fortieth president of the United States, was known to quote a Russian proverb, “Trust, but verify.” For our purposes, the opposite is true. Real trust does not need verification; if you have to verify, it is not trust.

Sometimes businesspeople forget this and try to ameliorate or mitigate all risks. This is particularly true in professions like law, finance, or banking. But the essence of trust contains risk. A trust relationship cannot exist without someone taking a chance—and it is your job to lead the way. If you think, I can’t take that kind of risk yet because there’s not enough trust in the relationship, check your thinking. It is the very taking of risks that creates trust in the relationship.

Ready to start your new trust-based mindset? Mind your Ps.

 

Good Things Happen When you Swing the Bat

At a talk last week, new friend Petter Østberg told me an old story with a new twist. It takes a great sports metaphor for achievement – and steps it up a notch to leadership.

First, the metaphor at Level One.

If You Don’t Do A, You Can’t Get B

You’ve heard this one before as, “If you leave the putt short, you are 100% guaranteed to miss the putt; never leave it short of the hole.”

Or maybe you know The Great One, Wayne Gretzky: “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.”  It’s not just about scoring percentage, in other words, it’s also – very much – about shots on goal.

You also know, “No pain, no gain.” “You’ve got to pay to play.” One of my favorites is the thundering voice from heaven that comes down to the whining loser who is kvetching about never winning the lottery: “Do me a favor – first, buy a ticket.”

All these metaphors remind us of the need to take risks. In our misguided efforts to avoid the risk of doing the wrong thing (call that Type 1 error), we end up not doing the right thing (call that Type 2 error). And in life, as in nearly every sport, it is that Type 2 error that ends up being the Big Bomb.

To not take a risk is the biggest risk of all.

Petter’s story started out this way. A deceased dear friend of his helped run the Little League programs in their town. One of the lessons he taught kids was, “Good things happen when you swing the bat.” If all you do is “take” the pitch, you’re likely to end up striking out.

(Apologies to the non-baseball countries out there, but you get the idea).

Good, good. The youngsters are being taught this Big Truth as well, all’s joy in Mudville.

Getting People to Take Risks

But as David Maister points out powerfully in Strategy and the Fat Smoker, the trick is not cognitive. Just realizing you’re fat and shouldn’t smoke doesn’t mean you’re going to stop gorging and emulating a chimney. Would that it were that simple.

The failure of most corporate training programs (not to mention the people who take them) is to believe that cognition implies action. Entire classes of professions (lawyers come to mind) believe that if they can simply understand something, they have acquired the only thing they need to act upon it.

When it comes to algebra, fair enough.  Maybe even learning a foreign language.

But when it comes to altering substantive human behavior, that belief is So – Not – True.

So it is with golf, hockey, baseball, and I’m sure with cricket and futbol. Armchair athletes from the business world nod sagely as they receive this wisdom from Tiger, the Great One, His Airness, you name it.

“Yup,” they say, “that’s just how it is in my world; you gotta take that risk.”

But they don’t. They really, really don’t.

So: how do you get people to take risks?

Leadership and Role Modeling are Key to Change

Answer: you do it through role-modeling, and you do it young.

Back to Petter’s story.

The Little League coach didn’t just encourage his team to swing the bat. He told the kids’ coaches and the kids’ parents to tell their kids to swing the bat, and with the passing of this dedicated coach just before this year’s baseball season, you now hear his mantra – “Good things happen when you swing the bat” – echoed on every playing field in his town.

The kids got the message, but here’s what he told the coaches:

Look, guys. I know you all mean well. But when a kid swings at a pitch a foot over his head, what do I hear you tell him?  “Lay off the high cheese,” you yell, gesturing with your hand high above your head, “wait for a good one – wait for your pitch. ”

And that is just wrong. These kids look up to you. You’re their leader. This is one of the few remaining times in their lives they’re going to listen to someone, and it’s you they’re listening to now.

These players are very young, and they’ll get more coordinated, that’s nature, but they won’t become better batters unless they swing the bat. There are plenty of other people who will teach them over and over the dangers of taking a swing; don’t you add to that.

Because if they wait for life to serve them up “their” pitch, they’ll lead wasted lives, waiting for that pitch. In life, that pitch rarely comes.

Don’t do that to them. Instead, teach them that if you swing, all things are possible. If you don’t, nothing is. Don’t you wish someone had taught you that?

I know I do. Thanks Petter for that story, and lesson.

25 Warning Signs You Have a Low-Trust Organization: Part 2 of 5

It’s not impossible to find a high-trust team in a low-trust organization – we’ve seen a few – but not too many. For the most part, low-trust organizations are made up of low-trust teams.

This is the second in a series of five, totaling 25 warnings signs in:

Team Warning Signs of a Low-Trust Organization

Look around the teams in your environment. Do they have some of these characteristics? Then you might be a member of a low-trust organization.

1. A low-trust team isn’t productive.

  • It misses milestones. It doesn’t deliver on time, or on spec. The team doesn’t do what it says it will do. The team is unreliable.
  • It produces mediocre work. It settles for what looks to be low risk, getting the lowest common denominator. It chokes off innovation in the name of risk, often masking jealousy and NIH (not invented here) Syndrome.
  • It fails to achieve its goals. Goal failure is more than milestone failure writ large. It speaks to a failure of common purpose and common commitment.

2. Low-trust teams typically form sub-groups and cliques within them.

  • There are flurries of private emails and hushed conversations. This is sub-team bonding, not even tribal – it is transient, shallow, and superficial – Mean Girls bonding.
  • Team members are guarded in their communications. They are concerned someone else might hear, and that would be in principle a bad thing. It’s the ‘in principle’ part that’s worrisome.
  • Information is hoarded as a source of political power, rather than shared to create greater team power and organizational success.

3. Low-trust teams are less than the sum of their parts.

  • A great team – even a just pretty good team – can accomplish so much more than simply the sum of its parts. But a low-trust team can’t.
  • They choke off innovation and personal growth – things that happen organically even in a neutral, social organization. A low-trust team isn’t benign, it’s toxic.
  • People are massively influenced by those around them – a group of low-trust people can bring even a strong team player down to their level of low trust.
  • If the team is bureaucratically protected from competition, it will have low turnover among a core group and high turnover from the occasional newcomer. If the team is in a competitive environment, it will show high turnover everywhere. No one likes staying.

4. A low trust team is addicted to faux team-ness, happy talk, not real team walk.

  • We can’t prove this, but we sometimes wonder if the presence of those motivational posters isn’t negatively correlated with team behavior (or is that just us being cynical?)
  • Lip service is the coin of the realm, because to be honest would be to acknowledge the existence of low trust. Honesty is what distinguishes a merely critical team from a low-trust team; the latter is disengaged.
  • The opposite of low-trust teams isn’t competitive, meritocratic teams; it is teams who know enough to wish they were trust-based, and try to pretend to appear so.
  • There is frequently a high-performer, one who achieves great results but does not follow the values. This manifest unfairness results in resentment among the rest of the team.

5. A low-trust team has trouble collaborating.

  • Low-trust teams are likely to prefer individual compensation schemes; they don’t believe in, or trust, the ability of the team to do well for them, preferring to fend for themselves.
  • Collaboration drives innovation; but low-trust teams exalt solo work, thus buying into the “solo inventor” myth of innovation.

If teams in your ecosphere look like this, you may be hanging around a low-trust organization.

For some ideas on how to improve trust, see Three Strategies to Improve Business’s Trust.

In the next post we’ll explore Five Warning Signs in Leadership that suggest a low-trust organization.

 

Stupid Crazy Trust

Sometimes I get annoyed. Usually, that means I’m thinking like an idiot. Sometimes, however, it produces useful ideas.

Lately I’m annoyed by the constant repetition of a myth about trust. You know this one: “Trust takes a long time to create, but only a moment to destroy.” There’s no need to name names here, but you can see examples of it here and here and here and here.

This time, my annoyance produced some good: I can now explain why that myth isn’t merely annoying, but positively harmful as well. Here goes.

The Truth.

Let’s start with the truth. Most human relationships, like most emotions, take roughly as long to get over as they took to develop. Marriages or friendships don’t end overnight. There may be a flash point, a straw that breaks the camel’s back. But we cut slack for people we trust. We don’t dump them abruptly.

If trust were lost in a minute, battered women wouldn’t stay with the men who beat them; things are a little more complicated than that.

If trust died quickly, the SEC would have investigated Bernie Madoff when Harry Markopolos first lodged charges against him. If trust died quickly, the steady drip drip drip of evidence at Penn State, Enron, Toyota, and Johnson & Johnson would have ended at the first drip.

Most examples of “trust lost quickly” turn out to be either just the last drip in a long series of drips or a delusion about trust’s existence in the first place. You don’t “violate the trust” of a subscriber to your email list by sending them a worthless referral. The relationship you have with a name on your email list may be many things, but “trust-based” is probably a stretch.

Trust formed quickly can be lost quickly. Trust formed at a shallow level can be lost at the same level; trust formed deeply, or over time, takes deeper violations, or a longer time, to be lost. The pattern looks more like a standard bell curve than a cliff.

But, you might say, so what? Why are you annoyed? Why is that harmful? 

The Harm

If you believe that trust can be lost in a moment, then you likely believe you must be cautious and careful about protecting it. You are likely to think about trust as a precious resource to be guarded against being tarnished. You are inclined to institute rules and procedures to protect it and to give cautionary lectures about the risk of losing trust.

Yet these are precisely the kinds of behavior that result in trust lost.

I don’t trust the man who talks with me while pointing a gun at me‬—partly because he looks threatening to me, but also because he clearly does not trust me.

Trust, at a personal level, is like love and hate: you tend to get back what you put out. You empower what you fear. Those afraid of getting burned are the most likely to get burned.

This totally works at a corporate level too. I remember vividly the convenience store chain that gave monthly lie detector tests to store managers to prevent theft—and then wondered why the theft kept on happening.

Trust is a Muscle

Thinking of trust as something you can lose in a minute makes you cautious and unlikely to take risks. But the absence of risk is what starves trust. There simply is no trust without risk—that’s why they call it trust.

If your people aren’t empowered, if they’re always afraid of being second-guessed, then they will always operate from fear and never take a risk—and as a result, will never be trusted.

Trust is a muscle—it atrophies without use. And the repetition of the mantra “trust can be lost in a moment” just tells people not to use it.

Turns out the stupidest, craziest trust is the trust you never engaged in because you were too afraid of losing it. The smartest trust is the trust you get by taking a risk.

Putting the “I” into “Intimacy”

“Intimacy” belongs in business.  Yes, intimacy. Not the kind that was the subject of classic ‘40s movies, but the kind that is essential to building trust.

The Trust Equation

The Trust Equation is familiar to many of you, both regular and even occasional readers of this blog.  It’s a formula for measuring our own trustworthiness through the Trust Quotient assessment.

For many people, Intimacy is the hardest piece of this simple formula to grasp and to put into practice.

Deconstructing Intimacy

We look at Intimacy in business relationships as having three components:

  • Discretion – the wisdom to know what to do with information another shares with us
  • Empathy – the ability to see another person’s point of view from the inside out; to identify with another person’s feelings, and
  • Risk-taking – vulnerability

The first two are about the other person: safeguarding their sharing, picking up on their feelings and acting appropriately.

The last one – risk taking – is about you.

The “I” Part

The “I” part of intimacy means opening yourself up to the other person.  It means becoming vulnerable.  It really is all about you, and the risks you’re willing to take.

We often get asked what Intimacy sounds like or looks like in business settings.  I would argue that it doesn’t require knowing the name of your client’s or colleague’s kiddos or pets (though for some people that works as Intimacy too), but rather saying or doing the thing that feels risky.

It may be as simple as asking for feedback, when you really don’t want to hear bad news:  “I don’t feel that I’m doing this job to your satisfaction.  Can we discuss it?”

It may be revealing something personal about yourself, perhaps saying at the start of a big presentation:  “Although I am completely convinced that our plan is a good one, I find myself a little intimidated talking to this senior group.”

It may be a matter of just voicing something you both know to be true:  “I believe your boss didn’t think we were the right supplier for this job, and you went out on a limb to get us approved.  What are your particular concerns?  How can we make you look good?”

The I in Risk, and in Trust

A good rule to remember about trust in business is that it’s generally not about you.  Except, of course, when it is. And when it comes to intimacy, it is about you.

In our White Paper we show with hard data that the “I” factor drives more trust than the other three.  And it is where risk shows up: taking the risk of Intimacy is what creates the reciprocal exchange that is trust.

If you’re lucky, your client or colleague or boss will lead by taking the first risk. If you don’t trust to luck, make some luck of your own. Take a risk. Lead with intimacy. Create some trust.

You can do that.

To Link or Not To Link

A colleague recently asked me how I handle LinkedIn invitations from people I don’t really know.  Another colleague asked about connecting to people whose reputation is questionable.  While the same questions can be asked about Facebook, Google Plus and other social media, because of the differences in the types of services and benefits each offer, I’m only going to discuss LinkedIn here, and address mostly issues relating to trust.

Trust All Connection Requests?

When people ask me questions about whether to accept invitations, they are usually not asking about the business benefits of making the connection.  Often, they are asking about the business and personal risks associated with accepting the invitations.

Recently, Charlie Green shared a Trust Tip via Twitter  (#57 Trust but verify?  No. Trusting means you don’t need verification).  He explained the Tip more in his Trust Tip Countdown blog.  While trusting without verifying may be appropriate in some circumstances, it is not appropriate for everything.  In his presentations, Charlie often says “I trust my dog Sammy with my life, but not with my ham sandwich.”  It is common sense to not leave a sandwich in front of a dog, if you expect it to be there a minute later.   Accepting an invitation from someone we don’t know, poses some risks, and requires some verification in advance.

Here are some risk scenarios that may result from accepting LinkedIn invitations:

  • I don’t block my connections from seeing who my other connections are.  Some people do block that access on LinkedIn.  Sharing LinkedIn connection names has the risk that some of your connections will contact people with whom you are connected without your permission, by using your name.  I’m told that because of this risk, recruiters block access to their connections.
  • If we connect to a person who has a reputation of not being trustworthy, that could reflect badly on us.
  • Some people are concerned about connecting with competitors.  That might increase your opportunity to collaborate and generally benefit from being connected.  You may also be concerned about whether your competitor will misuse your contact list, or take business advantage of other aspects of being connected.
  • If you don’t know many of your connections well enough to introduce others to them when requested, having a lot of connections may seem disingenuous.  Of course, there may be business or other reasons we choose not to accommodate an introduction request.  One of these reasons should not be: “I really don’t know that person.”

Best Practices Suggestions for Accepting Invitations  

Here are three typical scenarios I encounter when I receive an invitation on LinkedIn.  I quickly assess the risk, and simultaneously look for ways to increase the business benefits of the potential connection.   :

1. I already know the person or we have at least met in person or by phone or online.

I think about how well I know the person, and assess whether I will be comfortable with connecting the individual to other people I know.  I have fairly liberal standards, and generally opt in favor of connecting.  I may have met the person briefly at a conference or we may be in a virtual group together.  Before accepting the invitation, I may reach out to the contact and ask for a phone call so that I can increase my comfort level and trust.

2. I don’t know (or remember) the person, but we have connections in common.

For these potential connections, I investigate further, by reviewing their profiles on LinkedIn, and using Google to check their online presence.  Generally, I am likely to connect based on my investigation, relying in part on the transferred trust from the person I know.  Sometimes I even write to our common connection and ask if s/he knows the person.  In addition, before I connect, I am much more likely to reach out and ask the person to have a phone call with me so we can establish or enhance our relationship.

If the person seeking to connect with me on LinkedIn does not want to have a call with me, that is a sign that I should not accept the invitation.  Having the conversation creates a stronger connection, and could give me more information as to whether it makes sense to connect.  Interestingly, I recently received an invitation without a personal note reminding me of where I met the person.  It turns out she was a student in a class I taught on coaching.  I emailed to ask her if we knew each other, and we then had a follow up call.  We are now building a relationship, and I would not hesitate to introduce her to my other LinkedIn connections.

3. I don’t know the person, and we have no connections in common.

I suspect some of these requests are spam, but just in case, I usually investigate further by reviewing the person’s profile, and researching them on Google.  Recently, I’ve been receiving invitations from people who have high ranking titles, and appear to be part of solid companies, usually from outside the US.  Yet, they have only a very few other connections.  Their invitations do not indicate how they know me, or why they want to connect with me. I ignore these.

Those invitations that do not appear to be spam often look like they are from people who are using LinkedIn’s service to connect to everyone in a group, or everyone in their email database, regardless of whether we know each other.  I think about each one, and determine whether I want to reach out and have a call or connect by email or just ignore it.  I just use common sense.  You may end up with a good connection, or you may just be clogging your LinkedIn with people who you cannot help or from whom you can ask for help.

Make Invitation Requests Easier to Accept

I enjoy getting invitations and inviting people to connections.  My advice – when inviting someone to connect on LinkedIn, don’t just use LinkedIn’s template.  Personalize it, and, unless there is no question that the person knows you, remind her/him how you met, and why you want to connect.  Make it easy for both of you.

The Five Essential Trust Skills: Don’t Leave Home Without Them

A competency model won’t answer the mail when it comes to building trustworthiness—in fact, there’s risk in attempting to reduce trust to a series of behavioral definitions. At the same time, there is value in culling down the essential skills of a Trusted Advisor to a practical number.

I narrow it down to the following five: Listen, Improvise, Risk, Partner, and Know Yourself.

Common Denominators

The five essential skills share important characteristics:

  • They appear elementary—easily dismissed as too basic to merit our attention. (“I’ve been in sales for 20 years; I know how to listen by now!”) They’re deceptive that way.
  • They’re capabilities you can practice, and should practice over and over again. The five essential skills are to a Trusted Advisor what scales are to a maestro.
  • They’re inextricably linked. Improvisation requires risk, partnering requires listening, and all of them require knowing yourself well to be effective.

Essential Skills, Defined

There’s a lot to be said for simplicity, hencefive and only five. (Interestingly, Steve Arneson, formerly head of leadership development at Capital One, AOL, Time Warner Cable, and a division of PepsiCo, agrees in principle; he advocates for eight—not 67—essential competencies for leadership.)

Here are the five essential skills of a Trusted Advisor:

Listen. Every day, garden-variety listening—which is what most leadership development, consulting skills, and sales training programs teach—is listening with a purpose, and usually that purpose is self-oriented: to sell, to convince, to get smarter, to buy time. By contrast, the kind of listening that engenders trust—deep trust—is not purpose-driven listening to identify needs or to mine for data you may extract to justify the pitch/sell/recommendation/opinion you have to deliver. It is, instead, empathetic listening where the focus is actually on the act of listening itself.

Improvise. The business world is rife with the unexpected including tricky client situations and other uncomfortable and awkward moments that occur at the worst possible time. Let’s call these Moments of Truth. And in these moments, the skill of improvising—inventing, composing, or performing with little or no preparation—is precisely what you need. Improvisation is relevant to any would-be Trusted Advisor because Moments of Truth are inevitable and how you handle them says a lot about who you are.

Risk. There is no trust without risk. Certainly no deep trust. Yet most of us worry about doing something that feels risky—like speaking a hard truth or sharing something personal—because we don’t think we have enough trust in the relationship for that risk to be tolerated. The irony is it’s the very act of taking those risks that creates trust.

Partner. Look up “partner” in the dictionary and you’ll see “either of two persons dancing together” in the definition. The dancing metaphor is perfect for Trusted Advisor relationships. It conjures up images of give and take, synchronization, graceful movement, and being in tune and in step with one another.

Know Yourself. Introspection is the hallmark of a Trusted Advisor. Introspection doesn’t imply narcissism or self-obsession. In fact, the more self-aware you are, the lower your self-orientation tends to be. To “know yourself” is to have a full and complete inventory of your weaknesses, triggers, and hot buttons, as well as your strengths, interests, and sources of passion and purpose. Knowing yourself is about achieving a level of self-awareness that is required for good self-management—a leadership competency rightly elevated in status in the last decade thanks to Daniel Goleman, and re-emphasized in a recent study by Green Peak Partners and Cornell University.

That’s my take. What’s yours?

Handling the Risk of Trusting Others’ Motives

I ran across this the other day:

I am not a victim of others, but rather a victim of my expectations, choices and dishonesty. When I expect others to be what I want them to be and not who they are, when they fail to meet my expectations, I am hurt.

When my choices are based on self-centeredness, I find I am lonely and distrustful. I gain confidence in myself, however, when I practice honesty in all my affairs. When I search my motives and am honest and trusting, I am aware of the capacity for harm in situations and can avoid those that are harmful.

A friend said something similar:

When I meet people, I bring an implicit contract. In that contract, I agree to treat them with the utmost respect, in ways that I would wish to be treated. And in return, all I ask is that they treat me with the utmost respect, in ways that I would wish to be treated.

Frequently, I find they end up in breech of contract. Of course, I haven’t presented them with the contract for them to read. And so it goes without saying, they haven’t signed it. D’ya think there’s something wrong with my contracting procedures?

Looked at from this angle, to trust someone is a unilateral decision to seek a bilateral relationship. When the other responds, then you’ve got a basis for something joint—or you don’t. 

But at the outset—when the trust-risk is first taken—there is no obligation. There is thus no basis for dashed expectations, disappointment at outcomes, or resentment that people didn’t do what we had wished they would do.

Most of the time, trust offered gets reciprocated. But not all of the time. That’s why they call it trust, it always and by definition comes with risk. To expect a particular outcome in a particular instance is to insist on changing the laws of probability. You can bet that 5000 coin tosses will produce roughly 2500 tails. But if the very next coin-flip turns up heads—how crazy is it to be upset? 

This is the meaning of “an expectation is a pre-meditated resentment.”