Real People, Real Trust: A Learning Consultant’s Approach to Leadership

Heber Sambucetti is a senior learning consultant with Accenture, working routinely with some of Accenture’s most seasoned executives. Find out what Heber sees as the distinguishing traits of a trusted advisor, and learn how he has successfully turned the most challenging relationships into prosperous ones.


Heber (pronounced EH-ver) and I met in 2010 when I led a Being a Trusted Advisor program for the team he works with. I was immediately struck by his candor, caring, and professionalism.

I began my Real People, Real Trust interview with Heber in the same way I’ve done in the past, asking, “What does it take to be a trusted advisor?” Heber’s immediate response was remarkably similar to Anna Dutton’s; he said, “Above all else, you need to be sincere and genuine.”

Heber continued, “That’s the only way you can create the right type of environment for a business relationship to prosper. You need to come with a pure intent to help others, and truly care about the person across from you.

“Secondly, don’t be afraid to bring emotions to the business environment. That’s a necessary element to create a certain level of intimacy—and by that I mean a sense of familiarity, closeness, and an understanding of each other. That way, not only do people see who you really are, but it makes it possible for you to ask the tough questions and deal with the tough stuff when it counts. If someone’s angry, you should be able to address that—as in, ‘What’s got you angry? I sense frustration.’ Sometimes people are afraid to explore this side of things. Validating other people is important. Sticking to the task only gets you so far.

“Those are your foundational pieces—the genuineness, the pure intent, and focusing on more than just the tasks at hand. And then you need to be able to consistently deliver whatever it is you’ve agreed upon, and bring something better for their business. That requires understanding what success is for them. And don’t forget about what you care about too. If it’s a one-way relationship it will never work.”

Fighting Fires

During our conversation, I discovered that Heber was a firefighter and Emergency Medical Technician in a prior life—something I never would have guessed, having interacted with him exclusively in a corporate environment. I asked him what parallels he saw between the world of consulting and the business of saving lives.

“In the fire department, I really learned first-hand the importance of establishing an environment of trust. When you feel like you’re part of a family, then you don’t want to let the family down, and you genuinely care about people you’re helping. You’re taught how to bring the best of yourself every day. The consequences of failure are extreme—your team member or a citizen loses a life. There is an unwritten rule that you all go in and you all come out; you don’t leave anyone behind.

“Sure, the stakes are different in business—mistakes in the corporate world won’t cost a life, no matter what the pressures you may feel inwardly, and I remind my team of that every day. But I still live by all those principles: be of service and always give it your best.”

Surviving the Heat

I asked Heber if he had a “proudest moment”—a time when he knew something important had shifted in a relationship.

“Once I turned a relationship from the individual being incredibly chastising and critical of everything—someone much more senior than me—to that person being a champion and educator. One day, after a series of interactions, I just had to lay it on the table. I said, ‘If you want to make me feel like sh** and perspire every time I talk to you, then you’re on target. But here’s the thing: I think I can learn from you. It’s true I don’t know everything, and we have a common goal of success with this project, so I need you to teach me instead of criticizing me.’ The person was taken by complete surprise and the relationship took a dramatic turn for the better. It was an intense moment. I ran out of deodorant. But I just had to say what was there.”

Heber then made a point to speak about taking responsibility for relationships gone wrong.

“When a relationship isn’t working, it’s easy to approach it from the perspective that you’re not doing anything and this person is beating you down. The question I always ask myself is, what am I doing to make the relationship better—or worse? What’s my piece to own? How have I let it fester? Holding yourself and others accountable are keys to relationships that work.”

Best Advice: You Snooze You Lose

I asked Heber for his best advice for someone who’s trying to increase trust in a relationship.

“First, ask yourself why you want to improve the relationship with that person; what’s in it for you. Always ask why. If the answer is, ‘Because I need to make my numbers and have them sign on the dotted line,’ think again. Would you want someone to approach you that way? No. OK, then try again from a different perspective. Put yourself in their shoes.

“Most people have a gut feel for what others are thinking and feeling, they’ve just hit the snooze button on it. They don’t want to look at it—it’s too raw, too emotional, too difficult, so snooze it is. And then they’re surrounded by alarm clocks all on snooze. That’s not sustainable.

“This applies personally as well as professionally. If I ever hit the snooze button with my son, he tells me right away. Children have a magical way of reminding you straight out that you’ve hit snooze—‘You promised me we’d play soccer, Dad.’ ‘We’ll do it tomorrow.’ ‘That’s what you said yesterday, Dad.’

“So I do what I can to minimize how many snooze buttons I have in life.”

Warming the Heart

Heber’s approach to building relationships reminds me of Heber: straight up, wise, humorous, warmhearted.

I don’t know about you, but I’m glad to have the Hebers of the world to keep me honest and out of danger.

Connect with Heber on LinkedIn.


The Real People, Real Trust series offers an insider view into the challenges, successes, and make-it-or-break-it moments of people from all corners of the world who are leading with trust. Check out our prior posts: read about Chip Grizzard, a CEO You Should Know; Ralph Catillo: How One Account Executive Stands Apart; and Anna Dutton: A Fresh Perspective on Sales Operations.

Trusted Advisors: Are You Joking?

A doctor, a lawyer and a rabbi all walk into a bar.

The bartender says: “What is this, some kind of joke?’”

Notice: It’s never a manufacturer, a schoolteacher and a dancer who walk into the bar and serve as setup-lines for our jokes.  Instead, it’s those who should be our most trusted advisors: doctors, lawyers, spiritual leaders.

Ever wonder why?

Untrustworthy Advisors?

I am one who trusts.  I strongly believe that the vast majority of people in each of these professions, or callings, can be trusted with my life.  And yet I still find the doctor-lawyer-preacher jokes pretty funny.  Which got me thinking about why these folks are the protagonists of so many stories and jokes.

Here are three reasons I came up with:

1. Because these are meant to be respected professions, it’s easy to laugh at the bad apples and contrarian behavior.

2. Because we need our doctors and lawyers and spiritual leaders to be truly trustworthy advisors, the experience of dealing with them can be pretty emotional.  We are, in many cases, entrusting them with our lives, our money, our most personal family matters and more.

Trust is risky – the very definition of trust means we are taking a risk in relying on the advice, actions or discretion of someone else.  And that can be scary.  With so much at stake, we need the release that humor offers when dealing with serious, scary themes.

3. Perhaps the greatest reason these trusted advisor are so prominent in jokes is that they represent different aspects of ourselves, internal paradoxes we are trying to manage and integrate.  The doctor –the body, or the physical; the lawyer – the head, or the intellectual; and the rabbi/priest/preacher —  the heart, or the spiritual. These jokes are a form of stories—metaphors for aspects of life.

My Musings and Yours

These are my musings about the doctor, lawyer and rabbi who just walked into my bar.  Seriously, now, let’s share a beer and talk this through.

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?

ACTION REQUIRED: Read my email PLEASE! (Part 2)

In my most recent post, I addressed an issue plaguing those of us who communicate by email – incomplete responses or the failure to respond at all.  In that post three experts shared their advice on how to improve the emails. If you’re following all the great advice, and the problem persists, what do you do?  I called those same three experts – Alesia Latson, Bob Whipple and Stever Robbins, and asked them:  “If e-mail senders follow your advice and e-mail recipients do not respond fully or respond at all, what else can you do?”

Experts Weigh In on E-mail Responsiveness

Here’s what they suggested:

Alesia Latson (Co-Author of More Time for You):

  • Give people the benefit of the doubt.  Assume positive intent.  All that happened is that you didn’t get a response – don’t make up any other story about what that means about you or them.  It means nothing in and of itself.    Simply follow up with a call or another message.  After 3 attempts drop it or escalate if appropriate.
  • Avoid long lists of things for people to do – it’s too confrontational and adds to their sense of being overwhelmed.  Keep it to two action items maximum per requests.
  • Try an opt in.  Say something like, “If I don’t hear from you in the next day or so – then I’ll assume that you’re ok with it,” or “I’ll follow-up with a phone call if we don’t connect via e-mail.”

Bob Whipple (author of Understanding E-body Language):

  • Establish ground rules within a group, including timing for response, and hold each other accountable.  Be aware that Gen Y and Gen X (think anyone under 35) are less likely to respond to email.  This is getting to be a corporate problem.
  • Try to keep emails readable in the preview pane (assuming it’s horizontal) – the start of the signature block should be visible on the first page.  It creates a psychological incentive to read the note. A note that goes “over the horizon” is often deleted before being read.
  • Keep emails simple – so they can be read and internalized in 15-30 seconds.
  • Note the pattern of communication for the person you are trying to reach.  Reach the person in the way s/he is most likely to respond.  It may not be email.

Bob also suggested looking at his articles – I did, and there are a lot more ideas listed.

Stever Robbins (author of Tips for Mastering E-mail Overload):

  • Assume they have too much email, and pick up the phone (you’ll be one of the few).
  • You may be being marginalized – poke around and find out what’s going on. If there’s no trusted person you can ask, then you may have your answer.
  • Learn the most important agenda of the person you are communicating with, and reframe to his/her agenda, rather than yours.

Applying Trusted Advisor Models

These are all great suggestions.  And there are some common themes:

  • Start from the other person’s perspective.  Each of the experts emphasized considering the recipient’s situation in reading and responding, rather than your own situation in needing a response.  This concept is the first of the powerful Trust Principles.

That is, focus on the other for the other’s sake, and determine how that person can and will actually receive and act on the message, and consider how to frame your message so it becomes important for that person to respond.

  • Pay attention to your own credibility.  If you are being marginalized, as Stever Robbins suggests as something to look at, perhaps there are things you can do to improve.
  • By assuming positive intent of the recipient, we are less focused on ourselves.  If we think “why didn’t she get back to me?” that could be an indication of high self-orientation, the denominator of the Trust Equation.   This type of thinking is a trap that makes it difficult to find a solution to a responsiveness issue, because instead, you are looking for someone to blame.

We’ve heard from the experts – now it’s your turn.  What have you tried that has worked?

Real People, Real Trust: A Fresh Perspective on Sales Operations

Anna Dutton is a Sales Operations Director for Blackboard, a company that brings technology to the world of education. Find out what Anna sees as the distinguishing traits of a trusted advisor, and learn two concrete steps she recommends for anyone who wants to bring more transparency and trust to their business relationships.

In a Word: Genuine

Anna (pronounced “Ahna”) and I met in 2009 when she was leading a team of 10 inside salespeople and wanted to share the principles of Trust-Based Selling with the group. In our exploratory conversations, Anna’s thoughtfulness, poise, authenticity, and commitment to people being the best they can be really shined through. Anna has the world at her fingertips— she has 15 years of business experience in roles as diverse as banking, tourism, and human resources, and she speaks three languages fluently. Yet she is as down-to-earth as they come.

I began my Real People, Real Trust interview with Anna the same way I began my conversation with others I’ve featured, by asking a simple question: What does it take to be a trusted advisor? Without a moment of hesitation, Anna said, “Being genuine.”

“Genuine for me means not being afraid to tell the truth, to say what you think, to say something that others may not agree with. It’s about really having integrity with the people you have relationships with.

“Most of my colleagues and former team members would probably tell you that I will always say the truth and not hide from it.  I want them to know they can rely on me, they can be honest with me, and that I always have their back. This extends into my personal life, too. It’s important for people to know where I’m coming from and that I will always meet them halfway.”

Delivery Matters

Anna emphasized the difference that delivery makes.

“Of course, I always consider how to say things. Delivery makes a difference. People have come to count on an expression I often use: ‘I’m sorry I just have to be blunt.’ They laugh now when they hear it, which brings some levity to what might otherwise be a tense conversation.

“Here’s what I’ve noticed over the years: I have never had someone say, ‘I wish you hadn’t told me that.’ I will apologize for being so transparent, but I will never need to apologize for saying the truth.

“I changed roles a few months ago, and had an exit dinner with my team. They said, ‘We trusted you; we knew you always had our back.’ The irony was that they further created that trust amongst themselves and strengthened their ties so much that they could focus on helping each other excel and succeed.  Projects and deliveries and tasks aside, this is what matters in life.”

The Courage to Stay the Course

Anna spoke to me in her characteristically frank way about the courage it takes to live from the principle of transparency.

“When you’re committed to telling the truth, you have to accept that some people won’t like it, and that not everyone will be willing to take the journey with you. Courage is being willing to take the risk and accept the consequences. Ironically, when you do that, you realize the consequences aren’t so bad. Truth-telling not only forges stronger relationships, but people respect you more, and ultimately, they thank you.

“I’m not saying it’s easy. I always have to remind myself that the benefits outweigh the negatives, and remind myself that I won’t stand for anything less. I definitely have my share of vulnerable moments. When I can remember what’s lost by not being genuine in this way, I know it’s worth the risk.”

The Journey

Anna attributes the learning of these important lessons to her own personal experiences, as well as people in her life who have served as role models, like one boss who stands out as a real trusted advisor. “I was so sad when he retired last year, but I take his lessons with me every day,” she says. Anna has also learned a lot from living and traveling all over the world.

“I had an atypical upbringing: being a first generation American and growing up in Italy, Spain, and the States.  I often related to different cultures, different people, and different perspectives.  I had to take risks to create relationships and to connect with my changing world. Life taught me many lessons, and I went from child afraid to say what she thought to someone who can, as a direct result of facing life’s challenges.”

Anna continues, “I also think that being great at relationships requires being a dedicated student of relationships. I’ve read a lot, learned a lot from experts, and I’m friends with people who are psychologist and organizational development experts. Our dinner parties are often marked by spirited and thoughtful conversations about human dynamics.”

(By the way, two books Anna highly recommends are A Fortune-Teller Told Me: Earthbound Travels in the Far East by Tiziano Terzani—a book that reinforces how just changing how you do things can cause dramatic changes in the world around you—and Type Talk at Work: How the 16 Personality Types Determine Your Success on the Job by Otto Kroeger with Janet M. Thuesen and Hile Rutledge, which emphasizes the importance of knowing your audience and how you communicate.)

Best Advice in Two Steps

I asked Anna what advice she had for anyone wanting to bring more transparency and trust to their business relationships. She suggested two concrete steps:

1.      Write down what you’re afraid of and really be honest with yourself. “Understand why you’re afraid of these things. Do whatever work you need to figure it out and address it—talk with friends, go to therapy, whatever. You have to understand what’s underneath it first.  You can’t create trust if you have fear.”

2.      While you’re figuring it out, just tell the truth for a week without coloring or altering and see what happens. “Worst case: you may annoy some folks, and see that they will not join you. I’m not suggesting you tell someone ‘You’re a horrid person’; you might say something like, ‘This situation is not working and this is why’ or ‘I’m nervous about this engagement and this is why.”

Anna says, “Being a trusted advisor is a process; it’s not like you learn it and then—boom—you do it every day. Plus as you evolve as a person, as you develop and grow, your approach may change. You’ll have bad weeks, and good weeks.  But more than anything, it’s a philosophy, an approach to life.”

Connect with Anna on LinkedIn.


The Real People, Real Trust series offers an insider view into the challenges, successes, and make-it-or-break-it moments of people from all corners of the world who are leading with trust. Check out our prior posts: read about Chip Grizzard, a CEO You Should Know and Ralph Catillo: How One Account Executive Stands Apart.

How to Sell to the C-Suite

We’re pleased to announce the release of our latest ebook: How to Sell to the C-Suite (pdf).

It’s the second in the new Trusted Advisor Fieldbook series by Charles H. Green and Andrea P. Howe.

Each ebook provides a snapshot of content from The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook, which is jam-packed with practical, hands-on strategies to dramatically improve your results in sales, relationship management, and organizational performance.

How to Sell to the C-Suite reveals:

  • What’s different about selling to C-level executives
  • A powerful 3-part preparation plan for C-suite sales
  • 9 best practices for successful C-suite selling.

Did you miss out on Volume 1 of The Fieldbook Series eBooks? Get it while it’s still available: 15 Ways to Build Trust…Fast!

Take a look and let us know what you think.

If you’re not already receiving these in your inbox, please sign up here.

Upcoming Events and Appearances: Trusted Advisor Associates

Join us at one or more upcoming Trusted Advisor Associates events.  This Summer and Fall, we’ll be hosting and participating in events in Washington DC; Minneapolis, MN; and through globally accessed webinars.

Also, a word about the Trusted Advisor Mastery Program.



Wed. Aug. 24th         Washington, DC      Andrea Howe
Andrea will be speaking at the Washington DC Chapter of the Project Management Institute (Washington Circle Luncheon) on “Trust and Influence: What Every Successful Project Manager Needs to Know.” 2101 L Street NW, Suite 200, Washington, DC.  11:30am. To register or for more information, click here. PDUs will be available for Project Management Professionals (PMPs).


Thurs. Aug. 25th         Global         Sandy Styer
Leaders, coaches, consultants: Do you want to add new knowledge to your practice, and a new tool to your toolbox?  Through Trusted Advisor Associates is now offering TQ Assessment Authorization! You can become an expert in administering and working with our Trust Quotient Assessment – taken by over 15,000 people to date – and Trust 360™.  Thursday, August 25th at 1:00 PM EST, via webinar.  Contact Sandy Styer to learn more.


Fri. Nov. 18th        Minneapolis, MN            Charlie Green
Charlie will keynote the Twin Cities Compensation Network Annual Luncheon.  He’ll speak on “Becoming a Trusted Business Advisor: the HR Challenges.”  Marriott Minneapolis West in St. Louis Park, MN.  Open to TCCN members and one guest.


The Trusted Advisor Mastery Program is in its second month.  This 90 day program includes 19 e-learning modules, 4 one-on-one coaching calls, 4 group coaching calls, a lively interactive discussion forum readings, tips and exercises.

Here’s what one participant has to say about the Program so far:


“The Trusted Advisor Mastery Program is a fantastic tool that recognizes the importance of building “trust relationships” in business, (in my case, the legal business).  The program is helping me improve my relationship-building and ask better, more open-ended  questions when I meet with clients and prospective clients.  The online videos, background articles and exercises are great, as is the coaching. I also have really enjoyed learning from the other professionals in the program; they’ve offered very helpful insights through the Discussion Forum and our group conference calls.”

—Stephen Riddell (Managing Partner of the Atlanta Office, Troutman Sanders LLP [AmLaw 100 Firm], Atlanta, Georgia)

For more information on the next available program, email us at:

The Trusted Advisor: Still a Top Ten Business Book After Ten Years!

Late in the year 2000, The Trusted Advisor was published. It was my first book (Galford’s too), and lead author Maister’s 3rd. We had high hopes for it–but so does every author.

It did well over the years. I think somewhere around senior associate level in accounting firms, 6th year associates in law firms, 5th year managers in consulting firms, some old partner takes the youngsters aside and says, “You should go read a book called ‘The Trusted Advisor.’ You’re ready to need it.”

How else to explain that, 11 years after initial publication, the estimable 1-800-CEO-READ book seller rated The Trusted Advisor number 7 on the March 2011 list of Top 25 Business Books.

And that’s not all. March 2011 was not a fluke. That number 7 ranking was in fact an increase from 2009, where it ranked #12–for the entire year 2009.

Today is typical: it ranks number 4,229 on Amazon’s all-book list as of 9PM. That’s pretty good for any business book, up against Harry Potter and Tina Fey. For a ten-year old business book, it’s quite unusual. Cialdini’s book on influence is of the same vintage, and does even better. And of course Steven Covey’s Seven Habits is a Monster.

But that is nosebleed territory company to be in.

I am humbled and honored to have co-authored The Trusted Advisor. I hope you’ll forgive me a little crowing about it, and I hope the upcoming Trusted Advisor FieldBook can achieve a fraction of its success.

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?

The Trusted Advisor and The King’s Speech

Datapoint 1. Maybe you’ve seen the Oscar-winning The King’s Speech by now. Certainly you’ve read about it.

Datapoint 2. If you’re reading this blog, you probably know I’m the co-author of The Trusted Advisor (with David Maister and Rob Galford).

There is a connection between those two datapoints. But it took executive coach Paul Rutherford to make the case.

The Movie and the Book

Rutherford—former Comms director at Xerox–wrote a blogpost—Advice Fit For a King–linking the movie and The Trusted Advisor that is so good, I’m embarrassed I didn’t think of it myself.

He suggests that the movie brought to life (in ways that a book could never do) some of the key principles we had articulated as being critical to a trusted advisor. Specifically:

  • Trusted advisors are consistent
  • Creating intimacy takes courage
  • Illustrate, don’t tell
  • Earn the right to offer advice
  • Focus on the client as an individual, not as someone filling a role
  • Be sure your advice is being sought
  • When you need help, ask for it
  • Just because the client asks a question doesn’t mean it’s the right question to answer.

Rutherford cites moments in the movie to illustrate each of these points. I’m beginning to think the screenwriters had read our book!

Credit where credit is due. If you’re online, click through to read Advice Fit for a King on Rutherford’s site, so he gets the traffic numbers. If that’s not feasible for you, then I have—with his permission—reprinted it below. Rutherford’s twitter handle, should you choose to give him a shout-out publicly, is @ruthertweet.

Paul, many thanks for such an insightful movie-cum-book review.


Advice Fit For a King

(quoted with permission from Paul Rutherford)

Like lost car keys, learning can turn up in the most unexpected places.

After a recent workshop on Client leadership, I’ve been reading The Trusted Advisor by Maister, Green and Galford. It’s a comprehensive, well-structured handbook aimed at those in professional services who need to build and reinforce their business relationships.

Brimming with anecdotes, checklists and ‘how to’ tips, it’s thorough and full of examples. Almost too thorough; no matter how many notes I made, and key paragraphs I underlined, it wasn’t sticking. It’s one of the shortcomings inherent in the ‘handbook’ form – I needed something to make it come alive.

Then yesterday I went to see The King’s Speech.

Movie Masterclass

Geoffrey Rush plays Lionel Logue, the Australian speech therapist who helped Prince Bertie, the Duke of York (Colin Firth) – and second son of King George V – to overcome a debilitating stammer. To make matters worse, his elder brother (David aka Edward VIII) abdicated the throne to marry a divorcee, and Bertie became King on the eve of WW2 – at the time when the country needed a clear voice of leadership.

Like all great pieces of entertainment, it’s a movie that works on multiple levels: It’s the story of a man trying to conquer his daemons. It’s the portrait of a leader struggling to step up to his role. It’s a study of class and social hierarchy. It’s an essay on the impact of radio broadcasting on politics and society.

And it’s a masterclass in becoming a trusted adviser. Here are eight scenes from David Seidler’s original screenplay that beautifully illustrate many of the principles in Maister’s book:

1. “Trusted Advisers are consistent”

It is Bertie’s wife, Elizabeth, who first approaches Lionel about treating her husband. She does so under the pseudonym of Mrs Johnson. He is direct and to-the-point with her:

LIONEL: Where’s Mr Johnson?

ELIZABETH: He doesn’t know I’m here.

LIONEL: That’s not a promising start

He tells her to have hubby ‘pop by’ to give his personal history. She says “you must come to us.”

LIONEL: Sorry, Mrs J, my game, my turf, my rules

ELIZABETH: And what if my husband were the Duke of York?

The penny drops for Lionel, but not his faith in his method and his success rate:

LIONEL: I can cure your husband. But for my method to work there must be trust and total equality in the safety of my consultation room. No exceptions.

It’s a testament to Helena Bonham Carter’s performance that you can see the relief in her face. Here is an adviser that is different, confident and will not make exceptions. Whether addressing commoner or royalty, he takes the same approach.

2. “Be not afraid. Creating intimacy takes courage.”

Obviously, this could be a flagship Client for Lionel; in that era, the gravitational pull of deference would have been immense. But his method – his advice – is based upon a relationship of equals, which he makes very clear to Bertie when they first meet.

LIONEL: I was told not to sit too close. I was also told, speaking to a Royal, one has to wait for the Royal to choose the subject.”

Cleverly, Lionel is already chipping away at the protocol; even Bertie acknowledges, with difficulty, that with him it could be a ‘rather long wait’. It’s a light moment before the inevitable conflict arises as the Adviser tries to map out his territory, focusing on facts:

LIONEL: When did the defect start?

BERTIE: It’s always been that way.

LIONEL: I doubt that.

BERTIE: Don’t tell me! It’s my defect.

LIONEL: It’s my field. I assure you, no infant starts to speak with a stammer.

After setting out his stall – he is the expert – he goes on to provoke Bertie, because it breaks down barriers and is part of the solution; Bertie doesn’t stammer when he’s angry. It’s hardly likely to be part of a B2B Client engagement strategy, but it’s a memorable reinforcement of the need to be brave in the face of defensive aggression.

3. “Illustrate, don’t tell.”

After provoking his potential Client, Lionel sets him an exercise to record his voice (if you haven’t seen the film, I’ll spare you the details). The session ends frostily, with Bertie saying that the treatment is not for him.

However, in a scene shortly after, Bertie listens to the recording, and realises that Lionel’s methods – or at least his approach – can yield results.

No one has told him this, it’s not on a testimonial. He has first hand, personal evidence of success.

4. “Earn the right to offer advice”

When Bertie returns to trial Lionel’s methods, the Royal couple set out their terms:

BERTIE: Strictly business. No personal nonsense.

ELIZABETH: I thought I’d made that very clear in our interview?

Lionel points out that the couple’s request will result in dealing with the issue at surface level, and is told that it will suffice. So rather than be precious, he agrees to focus on breathing techniques, physical exercise and tongue twisters. We know that it won’t address the core problem, but this is Lionel’s first steps in forming the relationship. He is earning the right to go further.

5. “Focus on the client as an individual, not as someone who is filling a role.”

Halfway through the film, Bertie’s father (King George V) dies. When Client and Adviser meet soon after, the conversation extends beyond the prescribed boundaries. As is his duty, Bertie has been presenting a formal face to the world, so he treats the meeting with Lionel as a form of release. Lionel learns much about his background, his upbringing, his relationship with his parents and his siblings – much of it the root causes of his impediment.

BERTIE: You know, Lionel, you’re the first ordinary Englishman…

LIONEL: Australian.

BERTIE: I’ve ever really spoken to.

Of course, the subtext is that Lionel is the first person that Bertie has spoken to about these issues. Lionel has now reached the status of Trusted Adviser.


The next time Bertie and Lionel meet, the prince is very angry with his elder brother. David is intent of marrying Mrs Simpson, a divorcee, so putting heart before duty. If it happens, Bertie will become King.

BERTIE: I am not an alternative to my brother.

LIONEL: If you had to, you could outshine David…

Lionel reaches out and gives Bertie a pat of comfort on the shoulder. Bertie pulls back in offended shock.

BERTIE: Don’t take liberties! That’s bordering on treason.

LIONEL: I’m just saying you could be King. You could do it!

BERTIE: That is treason.

They face each other, as though in combat.

LIONEL: I’m trying to get you to realise you need not be governed by fear.

BERTIE: I’ve had enough of this.

LIONEL: What are you afraid of?

BERTIE: Your poisonous words.

Bertie strides away, leaving Lionel to realise that he is no longer adviser to the man who is likely to be King.

It’s a brilliant scene, both dramatically and as illustration of a key point in Client intimacy. No matter how close the relationship becomes, there will always be areas that are off limits. Here, advice should only be given when invited.


7. “When you need help, ask for it.”

Events turn in the drama, leading to a reconciliation between Bertie and Lionel. This happens at Lionel’s home, where he is visited by the royal couple while his wife is out playing bridge. Which is just as well, as Lionel has not told her of his ‘star’ Client.

Unfortunately, she returns home early, and finds Elizabeth in the dinning room. Bertie and Lionel are in the parlour, in a scene that reveals the latter’s vulnerability:

BERTIE: Logue, we can’t stay here all day.

LIONEL: Yes we can.

BERTIE: Logue…

LIONEL: Look, I need to wait for the opportune moment.

BERTIE: (realising) You’re being a coward!

LIONEL: You’re damn right.

Decisive, Bertie stands and throws open the door.

BERTIE: Get out there, man!

And so the adviser is advised.

8. “Just because the client asks a question, doesn’t mean it’s the right question to answer.”

Bertie’s coronation is the first major test of Lionel’s methods. He attends the preparations at Westminster Abbey, and gets a very cold reception from the Archbishop of Canterbury, who takes an exception to this antipodean outsider. In the following scene, it’s obvious that ‘the establishment’ has done some digging into Lionel’s past, which they have fed to Bertie.

BERTIE: True, you never called yourself ‘Doctor’. I did that for you. No diploma, no qualifications. Just a great deal of nerve.

How does Lionel respond? By pointing out that when he was developing his methods (to help shell-shocked soldiers returning from the Great War) there was no training. He admits that he has no piece of paper, but asks Bertie to focus on his track record of results, and what they have achieved together.


I’ll stop at this point rather than spoil the end for those who haven’t yet seen The King’s Speech. I hope this post encourages you to do so, both as an emotionally charged historical biopic and as an object lesson in building Client relationships.

Maister et al say of the trusted advisor role: “… virtually all issues, personal and professional are open to discussion and exploration. The trusted advisor is the person the Client turns to when an issue first arises, often in times of great urgency: a crisis, a change, a triumph, or a defeat.”

For any of us hoping to build such a relationship, there’s plenty to learn from Lionel Logue.