Who Are the Ultimate Trusted Advisors?

What profession do you think has the most ultimate trusted advisors per capita? Consultants? Doctors? Financial planners? I now know where my vote goes. PICU nurses.

A Child in Intensive Care

I spent the first ten days of 2011 coming from and going to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). Our six-year old niece “Abigail” (not her real name) was critically ill (she is better now.) It was a once-in-a-lifetime scary 10 days for our family.

During this time I observed–and experienced–the PICU nurses as they did their jobs. Obviously, education, training and technical expertise is required to work in PICU. But what blew me away was the dedication, passion, commitment and ultimate customer service that everyone showed—to a person.

Their every action was executed with love and care. Each time they touched Abigail or did anything to adjust her equipment or medications, they told her what they were doing (though she was totally sedated): “Abigail, I’m going to suction you now, honey.” They showed the utmost respect for her as a patient and as a human being. It made me re-think what it means to be of service.

I emerged from this rough week with a fresh appreciation for what it means to be dedicated to clients and love what you do. I found myself wondering whether anything I had ever done could come even remotely close to what these PICU nurses do every day. I’m not trying to compare apples to oranges (e.g. I am an organizational performance consultant, not a nurse), but I think there are some apples-to-apples lessons to be learned here.

Applying PICU Lessons to Consultants

I live in Washington, DC, a town brimming with consultants. Just one search command reveals plenty of consulting firms claiming to be trusted advisors. But if you parse them using The Trust Equation–I wonder how many would match the kind of ratings these nurses get?

PICU nurses may be the ultimate trusted advisors. They are experienced, technically skilled and have a high degree of credibility. They have to be reliable; if they don’t show up on time to replenish a medicine the patient could die. In many ways they have to subvert their egos and have a low self-orientation to be of service to the patient.

In fact, could they do their jobs if they didn’t care? I concluded maybe they could execute the task-oriented aspects of their jobs without caring. But the love and care they put into their work, which drives the intimacy component in the Trust Equation, may be a critical part of the medicine and treatment for the most ill.

The Power of Care

Some studies show that the hormone Oxytocin (dubbed the “trust or bonding hormone”) is released with human touch and stimulates feelings of serenity, happiness and love, dampening fear and stress and nurturing trust and security. While our niece lay in a medically-induced coma for days, one of the nurses on the midnight shift took the time to carefully comb through Abigail’s long, tangled hair –and then put it into two braids.

When her mother awoke in the morning she was moved to tears to see that while she slept in the room in a rather uncomfortable chair, someone had shown her daughter the love and care that often only one’s mother can offer. How might this display of intimacy have contributed to Abigail’s healing process?

Lessons for Advisors

Abigail was hooked up to advanced machines and pumped full of life-saving medicine. She received world-class health care. But she also was cared for by perhaps the ultimate trusted advisors. We’ll never know the full power of the PICU antidote that brought Abigail back to full health but we might take a few lessons from them:

  • Know what your client needs and then deliver it
  • Communicate straightforwardly (never lie or sugar coat anything)
  • If necessary, under-promise and over-deliver
  • Allow yourself to bring humanity to what you do, knowing that this may be what makes the biggest difference
  • When you say you are going to do something, deliver on your word
  • Never, ever let your ego get in the way of doing your job.
9 replies
  1. Rob Peters
    Rob Peters says:

    I have first hand knowledge of this trustworthy service from spending 2 weeks in the Children’s Ward at Resurrection Hospital in Chicago when I was 14.

    The committed level of respect, support, and yes, love that was provided by the nurses, and doctors provided a safe environment to be vulnerable in.

    Early on in my care, I was too weak to bath myself and being 14 my body was changing but I trusted my care-givers to do the right thing.

    That implicit trust agreement between my care givers and me was never broken!

  2. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    I’m very touched and moved by your story, Sarah. I have some personal experince as well that reflects what you are describing. My take is this is what the Buddhists refer to as “loving kindness” – the driving force of conscious, loving and healthy interactions. It’s a heart-felt lens through which we view and approach the world and all its inhabitants, no matter who, no matter what, no matter where – even at work – all work. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Ed Drozda
    Ed Drozda says:

    Sarah, I am first of all very happy to hear that “Abigail” is well. At one time I worked very closely with a team of NICU physicians and nurses. My role as a transfusion medicine consultant gave me an opportunity to observe first hand the traits that you have described. These folks are indeed the Ultimate Trusted Advisors.

    Often times in business we fail to recognize that each of our contacts (employees, clients, vendors, etc) is just like your 6 year old niece. That is, they are people first, with all their vulnerabilities and limits. Recognizing this fact will make each of us better prepared to apply the Lessons for Advisors that you have shared; lessons that I believe all of us should make an effort to adopt and apply.

  4. Tom Gollier
    Tom Gollier says:

    It has been awhile, but I was impressed with from Nathen Adelson Hospice when my father passed away. I don’t think I’ve ever meant a representative of any organization, profit or non-profit, I found as trustworthy person-to-person in what was a difficult situation for me.

  5. Sarah Agan
    Sarah Agan says:

    What stands out for me in the comments from Tom, Ed, Peter, and Rob, is that we all seem to have had some experience with caregivers as people we trusted. I hadn’t ever thought about caregivers as Trusted Advisors and then found myself scribbling notes on a scrap of paper I found in the PICU and applying the trust equation. It then struck me that when we get clear about what’s at stake, the extraneous “stuff” seems to diminish into the background and then we can be in trusted conversation with others about what really matters.

    Thanks for all your comments. This experience was profound at alot of levels and I appreciate being able to share with you all.

  6. Rich Sternhell
    Rich Sternhell says:

    Sarah, Thanks for your post. It’s important for us to be reminded from time to time where we stand on the continuum of importance to people’s lives. What we do as consultants may not have the same degree of personal meaning or importance as the PICU nurses, but your posting provides a standard for us to aim toward.

  7. Sarah Agan
    Sarah Agan says:

    Rich, I couldn’t agree more with your comments. While our engagement with a client assumes there is something at stake, for most of us it doesn’t rise to the level of a personal life/death situation. As it relates to the Trust Equation, when we let our ego get in the way (high Self Orientation) or stop caring (low Intimacy) we may loose sight of what is most important to our clients and then we risk not being able to be of service.


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