Trusted Advisor Framework: A Rob Roy Consulting Interview
A conversation with Josh Reynolds and Guryan Tighe
Whether you work at an agency or in-house, whether you’re a senior executive or a young specialist, whether your advising, selling, marketing or even teaching, trust is at the core of your ability to make an impact. Trust is more than a warm, fuzzy feeling. It drives sales. It boosts corporate valuation. It attracts and retains top talent. And it allows people to debate strategic options and pick their path intentionally, rather than having that path dictated by organization hierarchy, politics, or fear.
At Rob Roy, we value Trust so much we invest thousands of dollars each year investigating it with research, such as our recent Dimensions of Trust study into what drives B2B tech purchase decisions. (Spoiler alert: it comes down to trust and transparency.) And we’ve developed a series of frameworks and exercises to help people achieve “trusted advisor” status with their own senior executives, customers and clients. We recently sat down with two of our own trusted advisors, Josh Reynolds and Guryan Tighe, to ask them about what it takes to be a trusted advisor—and the pitfalls people face along the way.
To start off, can you describe what it means to be a Trusted Advisor? Guryan: To me, a Trusted Advisor means someone who’s honest — not just about the easy stuff, but the difficult stuff as well — and someone who creates a safe space for whomever they’re with. And at the crux of the safe space is true listening, which is listening to listen versus listening to speak. Something that also sets this aside, for me, is someone that aligns to why they’re having that interaction. I find that most people listen to speak, and when you can tell that someone is listening to speak, they set a question to set an answer up for the next point they’re going to make. Whereas listening to listen means you really have to step away from your agenda to understand what is most important about whatever that person is telling you, why they’re telling you that.
Josh: I agree, being a Trusted Advisor is when the person you’re helping, whether that’s a client, colleague, boss, or senior executive, is leaning on you not only to get the right answer, but to make sure they’re asking themselves the right questions.
“Being a trusted advisor is when the person you’re helping is leaning on you not only to get the right answer, but to make sure they’re asking the right question.”
Moving on, why is it important to be a Trusted Advisor in the work that Rob Roy does? Josh: We are called onto help solve some pretty big problems, some of which are one that our clients don’t know how to solve on their own — What’s my corporate narrative? What are my corporate values? What should our mission be? What topics should we be talking about publicly? How do we get our Sales team to be more consistent and persuasive? How do we build better trust with our customers? — and if we’re not Trusted Advisors, then all we can do is help our clients solve the problem they think they have. We can only give the clients what they ask for, what they want. But that puts a lot of burden on the client to know everything they need to know. What sets us apart is that we can actually help our clients find the more valuable question to go after. We use a bunch of methodologies — AIM, Five Chapter Storytelling, Ask and Assert — to help figure out what the client needs to hit their business objective, rather than what Rob Roy can do to fulfill a marketing tactic. Guryan: Yeah, I think it’s more than important — I think it’s paramount. One of the main things we do is help our clients create the narratives to define who they are. In order to do this, we first have to listen to understand what’s working, what they want to be different, where there may be misalignment or even disagreements. Then we can get curious — we can orient them to the point that I was just making, to what’s most important to them, their purpose, and what’s most true.
So, how can you become a Trusted Advisor? Josh: There is a new trust model that Guryan — as FOURAGE — and I worked on together a few years ago. There’s curiosity, integrity, and empathy. That’s consistent with our Rob Roy value of compassion. First, I’ve got to ask you the right questions. Second, I need to earn your trust by doing what I say I’m going to do and living true to the values that you know me for. Then there’s empathy — you need to show you understand how they feel, not just what they know. So, if you parse that out, curiosity and integrity and empathy come down to perception, emotion, and behavior. I need to intellectualize and feel and act like someone who’s putting your needs before my own. I’m not just showboating to sound smart.
The final part of this is how afraid I am of looking stupid, how afraid I am that you won’t renew your budget with me, how afraid I am that maybe you won’t listen. I have to understand my own fear and understand where it’s coming from and work through that. It’s natural to be nervous when you’re telling a high-powered CEO “We disagree”. It’s natural to be nervous when you’re telling a CMO “I know you’re offering us $100 thousand contract. Before we say yes, we need to get clear on what’s true here”. It’s natural to get nervous in those situations but the reason I’m afraid is that I want the company to succeed and I don’t want to do bullshit work. So, when I understand where that fear comes from, I can park that fear.
There’s a very tactical, pragmatic, immediately useful technique that’ll also get you to be a Trusted Advisor as well, and that is the Ask and Assert technique. Asking and asserting is the inhale and exhale of being a Trusted Advisor. You ask somebody something when they’re closer to the truth of something. You assert when you’re closer to the truth of it. So when it comes to aligning marketing and business objectives, I will ask what the business objectives are. If I’m really experienced, I could assert how that compares to the business objectives of some of your colleagues, because maybe I know that a little better than you do. But you know what you’re trying to get done, who you’re trying to sell to — you know why you think they should buy it. So you ask about the business objective. You ask about what they’ve tried. You ask about what’s going wrong, where it feels hard. Or you ask about what’s going well or where it feels easy. But as a persuasive communicator, you assert “Well here’s how you can persuade people”. As a marketer, you can assert “here are the marketing channels that we know our customers are engaged in today”. The experience you’re trying to create as a Trusted Advisor is not “Oh my god that person is so smart”. The experience you’re really trying to create is “Wow I really feel smarter when I talk to you, because you challenge my thinking. You introduce better questions for me to tackle. You help make sure I’ve thought through it the right way. And if I’m missing an insight, you tell me what you see that I can’t and help me fill in my blind spots. I feel smarter when I talk to you”. You just have to act as a Trusted Advisor as often as you can. And over time, they will come to realize and recognize who you are. But you don’t wait for permission to start acting like one.
In that process, what are some challenges you might face along the way? Guryan: So personally, I think fear is what can really stand in the way. Listening to listen is actually pretty scary because you do have to walk away from whatever point you were going to make, and you don’t know where the conversation is going to go. You don’t know what’s going to come up, and that can make people uncertain because unknowns can make people uncertain. Oftentimes, leaders feel like they need to have all the answers, so rather than getting curious, they race to answers, they race to having the fix before we even understand what the problem or challenge might be. To me, the greatest tool is curiosity. From a place of curiosity, you can define what the Knowns and Unknowns are. Being a trusted advisor requires a great deal of self-awareness, which can be a challenge, but it’s also an opportunity for your own growth as well as for the organization you’re serving.
Josh: Totally agree. And that’s why I like to work closely with a partner like Guryan. We know each other really well, and we help each other out whenever we lose that sense of self-awareness. We keep each other honest and make sure we’re managing our own blind spots and fears.
"Being a trusted advisor requires a great deal of self-awareness, which can be a challenge.”
Can you speak more to how you think fear affects the process of becoming and maintaining a Trusted Advisor relationship? Guryan: If you actually pause and name your concerns. ‘Do I have it all figured out? What do I have figured out? If I don’t have it figured out, what part do I, and where would I benefit from asking questions or for help?’ — that shows you what other expertise you need, as opposed to getting stuck in ‘Well this is the piece that I know, so it has to be the answer.’ So, I think leaders can fear not having the answer, and I think people are driven by the bottom line business so much that it can cause you to not look at a lot of really important information that might actually impact the bottom line even though it’s not on a linear path to do so.
There are three things that help overcome those fears. The first is curiosity, and that speaks to that self-awareness part we were talking about earlier. The second thing is purpose. What you’re avoiding in that is, you’re trying to protect what’s most important to you, whether that’s your bottom line, your company’s mission. The third thing that can move you out of fear is gratitude. Oftentimes, we are aware of the costs that fear has, but we don’t look at how fear serves us.
"Oftentimes, we are aware of the costs that fear has, but we don’t look at how fear serves us."
Other than using Ask and Assert and those other models, what can you do to maintain a Trusted Advisor relationship with someone in the long run? Josh: Well, one of the biggest challenges is to make sure that you ask them broad, open-ended questions around what’s going on with them. The other thing you can do to maintain the Trusted Advisor relationship is to ask for feedback. Trust is co-created. It requires the person who is earning trust and the person who is bestowing trust. Trust is not a one-way street, and I’m not in control of it. So I need an authentic, real relationship with the person in which they can feel in their bones that I care more about their long-term success than I do about my near-term gain. Ask them how they’re doing, treat them like a human being, and ask them for feedback and recognize that you’re a human being, too, and it’s okay if you’re not perfect – just do your best to get better. Guryan: Yes! To me, it’s about staying curious and acting with integrity. It’s not about becoming a Trusted Advisor and then checking to make sure you are or still are — it’s not a one-engagement tool. You have to choose to show up this way every single time again and again and again, because things change. Part of being a Trusted Advisor is also challenging someone to make sure that that is still true for them and, if so, how they are staying on track for that. It’s not just ‘yes-ing.’ And that takes courage, to challenge someone, especially if you’re challenging a leader. Again, the fear could be ‘I need to have all the answers.’ or the fear could be ‘This isn’t my place to say something.’ So if we can always orient to ‘What are we doing this for?’ and ‘How can we be true to that?’ then whatever behavior that asks of us, whether it be challenging, owning what we don’t know, that, to me, is a Trusted Advisor.
"Purpose is where your power comes from, because if you are honestly and authentically just trying to do the right thing, the clients can sense that on a biochemical level."
Is there anything else you'd like to say? Any final takeaways? Josh: You have to be in service of finding the right story, or in service of helping them solve the right problem, and you let that purpose drive you. And that purpose is where your power comes from, because if you are honestly and authentically just trying to do the right thing, the clients can sense that on a biochemical level. Your eye contact, your tone, your actions, your word choice on email, your responsiveness, how fast you get back to people — all that is driven by what your main purpose. If your main purpose is revenue, people can smell it a mile way. If your main purpose is to be useful, they can smell that a mile away, as well.
Guryan: Being a Trusted Advisor gives us a framework to help create a win-win model. When we’re truly being honest and truly being open about what we’re in service of and what’s most important to us — we practice who we are through our values— that conversation opens the door for value-based ecosystems, which I don’t think are what’s driving things in business today. When we show up with honesty and integrity, we can have more focused conversations to support companies’ purposes and so many other things that society would benefit from by looking at differently. By dropping the lose-lose model in favor of interactions based in honesty, curiosity, and integrity, we open the door to so many more opportunities and possibilities that we wouldn’t have been able to see before.
"Being a trusted advisor gives us a framework to help create a win-win model."
Joshua Reynolds is the Founder and CEO of Rob Roy Consulting. Guryan Tighe is a Senior Associate at Rob Roy Consulting, an accomplished speaking coach, and the Founder and Fear Technician at Fourage.