Are you a trusted advisor or just an advisor?

Are you a trusted advisor to your boss or clients or just an advisor?  It’s not easy becoming a “trusted” advisor, especially to CEOs, military generals and the like.  Sure, you may occupy the position of a trusted advisor, but it absolutely does not mean you are one.

Early in my PR career, I regularly heard ranking PR pros say the following:

“The boss just doesn’t get it.” “If the boss would have done what I said, this wouldn’t have happened.” “I don’t understand why I’m not brought in early on important issues.”

If you serve in an advisory position and ever say these things or anything similar, you most likely are not a trusted advisor, at least according to one long-time PR icon.

I’m re-reading one of my most recommended books written by Jim Lukaszewski – Why Should the Boss Listen to You: The Seven Disciplines of the Trusted Strategic Advisor (Amazon affiliate link). It’s a must-read for anyone who has a staff job like PR or HR.

I first read it during my last job as a Public Affairs director for an Air Force base commander.  I thought I was doing fairly well in my job as a trusted advisor, but after reading this book, I realized I had a long ways to go.  I remember like it was yesterday cracking open the book before bed one night.  Well, I will just say this.  If you have a personality like mine that when faults or knowledge gaps are brought to your attention you obsess on them and stress out, I do NOT recommend this book be your pre-sleep reading material!

Increased body temperature and a racing heart do not lead to relaxation and good sleep.  Needless to say, this book became a daytime read.

That said, the seven blood-pressure-raising disciplines, as summarized in the book, are:

1. Being trustworthy. Earn the respect and confidence of those you advise.

2. Becoming a verbal visionary. Recognize that giving advice is an art and a skill that primarily depends on your verbal accomplishment.

3. Developing a management perspective. Look at the world through the manager’s or leader’s eyes.

4. Thinking strategically. This is perhaps the most valued quality of senior advisors – looking for methods and models to achieve different, novel, often unique solutions.

5. Understanding the power of patterns. Examine similar events to extract lessons for the future; the ability to understand patterns is sometimes referred to as the source of wisdom about what is going to happen.

6. Advising constructively. Provide advice using a structure, format, and context that can easily be both absorbed and acted on by those you advise.

7. Showing the boss how to use your advice. Showing the manager or boss how to put your advice into practice is essential. Most bosses learn how to work with advisors through trial and error. The best advisors always help their clients understand how to use the advice they receive from many different quarters.

Is your skin heating up yet?

Upon reading about these for the first time, I committed myself to internalizing and implementing them immediately because I could see the benefits.  To make a long story short, enacting these disciplines made a noticeable difference.  For starters, they helped me understand why people say things like, “I should have a seat at the table. I don’t understand why I’m not invited to these meetings.” Looking back, it’s now clear. The questioner was why.  You will not catch words to this effect ever leaving my mouth. It’s non-productive and whiny.  Those are definitely not the traits of trusted advisors.

Next, they gave me a plan. As time goes by, I’m getting better at these, but I’m re-reading the book to re-familiarize myself with it.  I’ve only made it through the preface and five sticky notes are clinging to the pages already.  Thoughts and ideas are jumping out at me that didn’t the first time through the book.  I suspect this pattern will continue.

Lastly, they give me perspective.  At the end of the day, a PR pro’s main job is to provide the best advice and counsel possible to the boss or client.  It’s not social media strategy, media relations or even strategic communication planning, it’s advice and counsel.

In my experience to date and after reading this book, I believe this is PR pro’s greatest struggle.  As a profession, we’re limiting our success by not, as Jim points out, closing the gap between the way we think and CEOs think.

Based on the list of disciplines above, are you doing well? Where can you improve?


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