We’ve been talking in this series about becoming trusted advisors to our sponsors. An important exchange takes place between sponsors and practitioners when advanced trust is explored. We want to earn trusted advisor status, but sponsors want to be sure they grant this rare level of confidence to someone who is truly worthy. In effect, we want to purchase (earn) the sponsor’s trust while they want to sell (grant) it only if paid the right price. What sponsors want in trade for their trust is to be “paid’ with the proper currency. There are several types of currencies that could help us attain the credibility we seek. Here are five that I think are particularly important.

Essential Trust Currencies

1. Bottom-Line Results

Above all else, the sponsor must see the connection between our efforts to influence and the realization of the intended results—that we contribute significantly to sustainable conclusions, enduring commitment, measurable outcomes, and achievement of the ROI that the change was designed to accomplish.

2. Expertise

It’s essential for us to demonstrate deep knowledge and experience around the human aspects of implementing change. Our judgment and proficiency must exceed anything that could be provided by SMEs, valued sources, and influential resources. Otherwise, a trusted advisor relationship cannot be justified. The sponsor must recognize that we deliver not just useful guidance but wisdom (e.g., discerning, insightful, penetrating, and valuable change-related perspectives/recommendations).

3. Sponsor Focus

All our efforts must be fully in support of the sponsor’s fundamental goals. This means understanding and remaining true to the intended outcomes of the initiatives we work on, evaluating our accomplishments based on the sponsor’s success, and subjugating our ego (agenda, personal preferences, etc.) to what will be most helpful to him or her.

4. Integrity

We must display an extremely high level of candor at all times. Among other things, this means:

  • Being honest with ourselves and the sponsor
  • Speaking the truth with:
    • Accuracy: correct, proper, just, and meticulous
    • Directness: straightforward, unequivocal, crisp, and unambiguous
    • Understanding: empathetic, considerate, sensitive, and compassionate
  • Openly declaring our biases, intentions, motives, etc.
  • Being authentic
    • Maintaining congruency between what we think/feel and what is expressed/done
    •  “Embodying” what we promote (being a model for what we suggest the sponsor does)
  • Standing firm despite adverse circumstances
  • Maintaining confidentiality (whether it is overtly requested or we apply discretionary  judgment)

Trusted advisors are expected to tell the truth regardless of the circumstances. Agents who are subject matter experts, valued sources, or even those who operate as influential resources may inadvertently (sometimes even intentionally) be less than candid. Although the motives for doing so may be based on caring for, or being protective of, the sponsor, nothing short of complete honesty will allow us to fulfill our prime directive—to help the sponsor make informed decisions. Truth telling should always be expressed with respect and kindness but never at the expense of failing to convey our genuine perspective on a situation.

This means we can’t stop with being “merely accurate” in our exchanges (This includes making statements that can later be defended as correct but that clearly lead the sponsor to a different conclusion than what full candor dictates.) Sponsors will grant trusted advisor status only to practitioners who consistently convey the truth of situations, not just accurate information.

5. Relationship Orientation

We must be willing and prepared to invest a significant amount of energy into the relationship. This kind of partnership calls for more than simply engaging in a pleasant collaboration with a likable client. It requires genuine caring, manifested in attentive listening, responsiveness, and availability when access to us is needed. It also necessitates a willingness to stay emotionally connected even when it is difficult to do so. The trusted advisor relationship represents a major mental, emotional, and physical investment on our part and should not be entered into lightly. Such expenditure must be from a commitment of the heart as well as the head. This will only happen if we are drawn to, and believe in, the sponsor and what he or she hopes to accomplish.

Which of these types of “currencies” is most difficult to earn? What other currencies can you think of that can help you gain trust with your sponsor?

Next: How Does a Trusted Advisor Act?

Go to the beginning of this series.