The Trusted Advisor

By David H. Maister, Charles H. Green & Robert M. Galford

Studying for actuarial exams? You know firsthand that becoming an actuary requires technical expertise – lots of it. Learned fast.

Is mathematical knowledge sufficient for being a great actuary once you have started working in the field, though? In their book The Trusted Advisor, Maister et al. argue no. In fact, “the key to professional success” (they write) “is not just technical mastery of one’s discipline (which is, of course, essential), but also the quality to work with clients in such a way as to earn their trust and gain their confidence.” 

One minute, you might protest. What if I don’t have clients?! Not all actuaries are consultants, after all… 

Stop. You have clients. Every employed person has at least one “client,” whether it be a boss, project manager, external client  or contact from another branch of your company. So let’s repeat that: You have clients.

What’s there to glean from The Trusted Advisor then? And is the book worth reading? In order to answer the second question, let’s start with the first.

1. What’s in the book?

The Trusted Advisor shares plenty of common sense, distilled in a pithy way that’s altogether not too “common.”

The primary theme I took away from the book was to consider the needs, fears and problems of others before ever offering an “expert solution” of one’s own. In the words of the authors, “the ability to focus on the other person… is evident in virtually all the trusted advisors we have encountered.” Basically, stop trying to show off your skills; ask instead what the client needs.

How does this work? While the book explains other-orientation in detail, I’ll share just a few points that resonated with me: Trusted advisors accept responsibility for their work and don’t blame colleagues and clients when things go wrong. They’re good listeners and ask engaged questions. They understand that “problem definition” adds more value than “problem answers.” They help their clients achieve their (the clients’) goals. They underpromise and overdeliver in the work they do.

All this (and more!) can be summed up by the “trust equation,” as follows:

Trust = (Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy) / Self-Orientation

(The higher the score, the better, of course.)

Think about that for a moment. Think about your own life. Do you listen well to others, giving them a chance to articulate the problems they desire to be addressed? Do you consistently follow through on your work?

None of us is perfect, but for all of us lots of little habits add up over time. The Trusted Advisor seeks to ensure those habits are the right ones – not only for your personal professional benefit, but ultimately for the benefit of your company and clients too.

2. Do I recommend it?

So would I recommend The Trusted Advisor? Definitely. It’s a fairly quick read that brims with sage examples, common-sense reminders and advice.

Check it out the next time you need a break from… you know… all that technical stuff. And happy reading!