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The importance of a trusted advisor


What do Dr Watson, Aristotle, and Harry Hopkins have in common? They’ve all played the role of trusted advisor to great leaders.

Hopkins was President Franklin D Roosevelt’s closest advisor, Aristotle was tutor and counsel to Alexander the Great, and we all know Dr Watson was the real brains behind Sherlock Holmes.

So who do you turn to for advice? Who is your sounding board for big ideas? Your go-to in times of crisis?

Leadership can be a lonely place – managing a business, navigating uncertain times, and making the right strategic choices can be hard.  But just because you’re at the top doesn’t mean you have to go it alone.

The second in command

In ‘Managing Oneself’ Peter Drucker talks about how some people are more suited to being advisors and some are better suited to be decision-makers.

“A great many people perform best as advisers… A good many other people, by contrast, need an adviser to force themselves to think; then they can make decisions and act on them with speed, self-confidence and courage.”

When you get the perfect pairing, a decision-maker at the top and a trusted advisor in the supporting role, a business can really fly.


The external mentor

Even if you’ve got a great second in command, a trusted advisor from outside the business can be a real benefit. Find the right one, and they can guide you, help you to find clarity and offer the insight and wisdom that only an external perspective can bring. Trust is the keyword with a mentor. Can you be open, honest, and upfront with this person? You’re likely to have challenging and personal conversations with them, so they need to command your trust – and your respect.


The understanding peer

Do you view other leaders as rivals? Challengers? Competition to be eyed with suspicion? You could be missing out on support and advice from those who understand your challenges the most. If you’re approaching similar clients or pitching for the same jobs, it’s unlikely to work. But if there’s someone in your network who operates in a similar – but not competing – field they could be an invaluable sounding board. If you can make it a reciprocal arrangement, all the better.


The subject-matter experts

Often the greatest insight can come from those closest to the challenges. If your structure isn’t set up for a second in command, there might be a number of subject matter experts in your team you can call on for advice instead. Don’t perceive it as relinquishing authority or control, if you trust your team to do the job you should trust their insight and opinion. And when you call on them for advice, you’ll make them feel empowered and valued too.


Focus and perspective

When you’re at the top, it can be hard to take a step back, and to seek support. But think back to recent challenges, to tough decisions, to big calls – what would a different perspective have brought? How could a probing voice have helped? With trusted advisors by our side, it’s easier to get the focus, clarity and direction we need to lead.