Real People, Real Trust: A CEO You Should Know

Chip Grizzard (@chipgrizzard)is the CEO of Grizzard Communications Group, a nonprofit marketing and fundraising agency. Chip is the fourth-generation member of the Grizzard family to work at the 91-year-old company. Discover Chip’s candid replies to questions about what it really takes to be a Trusted Advisor and how to create a company that leads with trust, every day.

Seven Key Traits of a Trusted Advisor

I first met Chip in January of this year when he brought me in to teach his top 35 leaders about Trust-Based Selling. It was clear from the moment we met that he’s a very principled man with a real commitment to being the kind of leader that others want to follow.

When I interviewed Chip for this article, I asked him what he sees as the fundamental attributes of a Trusted Advisor. His answers highlighted seven key traits:

  1. Keep your promises. “You gotta do what you say you’re going to do. So many times people will casually say, ‘I’ll send you that’ or ‘I’ll call you about this.’ I routinely make mental notes about how often people follow through on their promises. It’s about 50% of the time or less. That drives me nuts and definitely impacts my perception of someone else’s trustworthiness, so I work hard to be sure I keep my promises. I watch my words a lot and don’t make off-hand comments. If I say it, I’ll write it down or get a text message to help me remember. And then I’ll do it.”
  2. Focus on others’ success. “The only way I’m successful is if I make others successful. You can’t fake caring about what others think or what’s important to them.”
  3. Stay in it for the long haul. “You can’t look for a short-term gain; you have do to what’s right for the long-term. We have a 60-year client relationship in one case; other clients have been with us 20 and 30 years. This is unheard of in our industry. We give them all we have and they know we’re in it with them.”
  4. Treat people right. “It really is so simple. Just treat people right. It doesn’t get any simpler. If you do that, then great things happen. The day we’re fired from one client is the day we start working to rebuild that relationship and win that business back. We always end a relationship as positively as we can. Any time you take a hard approach, you burn a bridge. Some agencies in our space take the harder approach. They carry that with them forever. We always strive to be fair—to ourselves as well as our clients.”
  5. Persevere. “It might take ten years to fix something, or to win someone’s business. So be it.”
  6. Never compromise. “Compromise is not negotiable. It’s not even something I think about. Our industry is very small and people move around a lot. News travels fast about how you treat others. Personal integrity matters.”

Here’s the seventh, which I’m adding to the list on Chip’s behalf:

  1. 7. Modesty. Chip didn’t speak of this trait directly; he demonstrated it. At the beginning of our interview, this very confident and highly successful leader said, “I hope I can help you. Please don’t feel like you have to use my answers if I don’t give you exactly what you need.” An hour after the interview was over, he emailed me a note to thank me for my time.

Moments of Truth

I asked Chip to talk about tough times in Grizzard’s very long history of exemplary client relationships. He shared one particularly poignant story.

“We made a big mistake once. Our client had big media plan that coincided with our direct mail drop. Because of our mistake, the mail arrived in homes before the big media push. In the client’s mind, this hurt results. He called and said, ‘This is very disappointing. We’ve done all this planning and you’ve let us down.’ I asked him what would make him feel like we addressed the situation to his satisfaction. He said, ‘I don’t think we should pay for this mailing.’

“There was a fair amount of money at stake. Right away, I said, ‘No problem, done.’ As painful as it was, it was the right thing to do. Ten years later, he’s still a client, despite having moved around to different organizations and locations. And every time I see him—every time—he says, ‘Do you remember when we had the problem with that mail drop and you took care of it?’ It had a huge impact on him, and he became a lifelong client as a result.”

Creating a Culture of Trust

Grizzard was recently named “Top Workplaces 2011” in Atlanta. The evaluation for the program was based on feedback from a survey that 94% of Grizzard employees completed (exceeding the average company response of 55%). This top honor is a direct result of the honest feedback in a number of areas related to Grizzard’s culture, such as organizational values, strategic vision, leadership, operations, pay and benefits and overall work environment and experience.

I asked Chip to share any advice he has for executives who are trying to create a culture of trust in their organizations. His response boiled down to one thing: being a strong role model. And from Chip’s perspective, it starts with him.

A Matter of Personal Integrity

I never send a mixed signal related to integrity; my staff never sees me do it one way this way this time and another way another other time. Some people try to play both sides of the fence—to turn on the relationship charm and do the right thing at some points. But it’s not a part-time thing. You have to live it every day. It has to be real. And it’s not just a business thing.

“I just came back from a client conference where I saw people doing great things with clients during the day and crazy stuff at night with colleagues. Even if clients don’t see that, well, then your co-workers doubt your character. You can’t turn it on and off. You have to be consistent all the time—in your personal life, your social life, your professional life. I talk to my staff when I see them doing things outside of work that leave me concerned. Integrity applies to all aspects of your life.”

Teachable Moments

Chip made mention of a discussion his leaders were having during the program I led on Trust-Based Selling for Grizzard. The question on the table was, are there ever times when you shouldn’t tell a client the whole truth? Chip was in the room at the time (role modeling that he, too, had things to learn and it was worth his time to spend two days in a classroom). He reminded me what he said that day.

“My answer to that was simple: If you’re expending any energy on the debate, then it probably means you already have your answer about whether or not it crosses the line. I said it that day in front of all 35 of my leaders in the room, and since then I’ve heard two people repeating the same thing when talking to their staff. Teaching moments are key to living our values and our culture. They start with me.”

Recovering from Mistakes

I asked Chip what happens when he makes a mistake. Here’s what he said:

“I hope I’m not making a lot of integrity mistakes. I might make mistakes on how we’ve resolved a particular situation. In that case, I look back and acknowledge it, and apologize if necessary. I own it, try to explain it, and try to rebuild the relationship. I put in the time, the work, and the commitment to turning a situation around.”

Going the Distance

Chip is not only a leader with an impressive track record; he’s also an endurance athlete with a long list of sports accomplishments. Chip has competed in over 100 triathlons, including the Hawaii Ironman and Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon. I asked him what connections he saw between his athletic efforts and his success as a leader. His answer was inspiring:

“It’s very easy to not want to get up at 4 a.m. and go workout sometimes. If I stay up too late and do something dumb and I’m in the middle of training for an event, well, I get my butt out of bed and go suffer (laughing). On the endurance sports side, my work ethic and my passion make a difference for me. The same is true on the business side.”

May we all have the wisdom and tenacity to walk a mile—or run 26.2—in Chip Grizzard’s shoes.

Connect with Chip Grizzard on Twitter and LinkedIn.


This is the first blog in a series on Real People, Real Trust—an insider view into the challenges, successes, and make-it-or-break-it moments of people from all corners of the world who are walking the talk of a Trusted Advisor. Know someone you’d like to nominate to be featured in our next article? Email Andrea Howe.