We’re talking in this series about change agents who function as trusted advisors, which is the highest level of partnership with a sponsor. Trusted advisors engage in some or all of the following activities.

  1. Assess and work within whatever predispositions the sponsor shows. (That means stretch, but don’t overly exceed, the capability of the sponsor.)
  2. Help the sponsor establish goals slightly beyond what he or she currently expects to achieve.
  3. Understand, diagnose, formulate a prognosis for, and develop actions related to, the sponsor’s challenges.
  4. Communicate in ways that are direct, explicit, caring, and sensitive. It’s important to be confrontational sometimes, but never argumentative.
  5. Present thought-provoking questions that encourage the exploration of issues at a deeper level than the sponsor normally would pursue.
  6. Challenge his or her existing frames of reference (e.g., time and resource allocation, degree of progress achieved, amount of investment needed to succeed, assumed restrictions, what can/cannot be accomplished).
  7. Frame the context of situations to help shape and narrow the decisions/actions under consideration.
  8. Use compelling stories, metaphors, and imagery to convey instructive points.
  9. Promote new and sometimes uncomfortable behavior patterns.
  10. Provide frank, unvarnished feedback (including candid observations, tough interpretations, and compassionate but direct delivery).
  11. Endorse delving into the connection between the sponsor’s head and heart as change unfolds.
  12. Encourage examining the emotional aspects of deep commitment.
  13. Help the sponsor differentiate between dilemmas (to be managed, not eliminated) and problems (to be avoided or solved).
  14. Coach the sponsor to articulate change-related communications with accurate, crisp, and compelling language.
  15. Underscore the importance of the sponsor maintaining “laser beam” focus on initiatives that meet the Degrees of Difficulty criteria.
  16. Model mindset and behaviors the sponsor needs to adopt.

How Long Should It Take to Build a Trusted Advisor Relationship?

This kind of relationship isn’t usually quick to materialize…it typically takes some time to unfold. It’s possible to have a fast “connection” occur between sponsor and practitioner (liking each other, being impressed with the initial exchange, etc.) but developing deep trust is another matter. It begins with earning trust based on meeting or exceeding expectations, and evolves further as mutual commitments are realized.

The establishment of such an affiliation requires sufficient sponsor exposure to allow the proper dynamics to mature. First, the relationship is initiated and the early manifestations of “chemistry” become apparent. Then there is a period of concentrated activity, where results produced are consistent with expectations. It is only after these two phases have been completed, which may take months, that the full value of the trusted advisor role can be realized.

It Doesn’t Always Happen

The trusted advisor relationship is a powerful vehicle for supporting sponsors. Sometimes, however, it just doesn’t materialize. We should not assume that this kind of connection will always form with sponsors, yet we should remain vigilant for signs of the possibility (e.g., the sponsor values your frankness, seeks guidance from you when the stakes are high, is eager to learn from you, is willing to expose vulnerabilities during candid conversations).

The existence of a trusted advisor partnership ultimately hinges on whether the right chemistry evolves. Despite all the advantages for both our sponsors and us, such a relationship can only be encouraged; it can never be mandated or contrived. We need to nurture whatever signs emerge that point toward a tighter bond with our sponsors, being careful not to force anything past its natural boundaries. We should focus on earning the right to become trusted advisors by cultivating value in as many of the currencies as is appropriate, and appreciate and celebrate those trusted advisor relationships that we are privileged to be a part of.

What are your views on the nature and importance of the trusted advisor role? How important do you consider such a role to be in your sponsor relationships? What challenges have you faced when attempting this sort of sponsor affiliation? What aspects to establishing and maintaining this kind of connection to sponsors would you add to what I have shared?

Assess Your Personal Trustworthiness

Charles Green, author of Trust-Based Selling, has developed an online self-assessment tool, the Trust Quotient, that profiles one’s trustworthiness along four dimensions, and reveals your “TQ” compared with a database of 13,000 others’ scores. Detailed implications, profiles, and action steps are included, based on your scores. Click here to access the tool, or here to learn more about Mr. Green’s work.

Go to the beginning of this series.

Next series: Confessions of a Methodology Bigot

Detailed implications, profiles and action steps are included, based on your scores.