Today’s show is about How to Become a Trusted Advisor with Special Guest, Andrew Sykes, CEO & Founder of Habits at Work. Listen to the show on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, and Google Play.

Andrew [00:00:01] Trust is not only given but something that can be built and reinforced through all deliberate actions over time. Becoming a trusted advisor is a habit, not an accident. Being a trusted advisor is the license we need to help employees and customers solve their problems with our input. It’s the price you pay to be at the table and in the conversation.

Don [00:00:28] My name is Don Rheem, CEO of E3 Solutions, and author of the book “Thrive By Design: The Neuroscience That Drives High-Performance Cultures.” I speak across North America on the neuroscience of engagement, and I’m passionate about helping leaders at every level create engaging workplace environments where employees feel safe, recognized, and validated. Employees who feel safe, are happier, healthier, and more productive. Each week, my team and I take on topics impacting managers, and we offer solutions to your biggest workplace challenges. And you’re listening to Thrive By Design, a podcast created by E3 Solutions to give managers, CEOs, and leaders tips, strategies, and tools needed to create an engaged culture.

Don [00:01:19] Welcome. I’m your host Don Rheem, CEO of E3 Solutions. We are thrilled to welcome back Andrew Sykes, an expert on leadership, organizational performance, and business development, to help us finish off his four-part series on high-performing habits at work. For listeners that missed those episodes, be sure to go back and tune into episodes 39 and 40. Andrew is the CEO of Habits at Work, a Chicago-based firm that helps people create and master high-impact work habits and has spent years researching workplace habits that make business performances thrive. Today and next week Andrew will conclude his Habits at Work series and speak about not only how to become a trusted advisor but how to solve problems and negotiate, so that you can get what you want while customers get what they need. Welcome, Andrew, and it’s great to have you back on the show.

Andrew [00:02:14] Don, it’s my pleasure. I always love our conversations. Thank you for having me.

Don [00:02:18] Oh, it’s fun too. And this notion of creating better habits is probably essential at what we’re doing at E3 Solutions as well because we’re essentially asking managers not to do it the way you used to do it, but to create these new habits, so that you become more predictable and consistent in applying new skills. So, this series is particularly interesting to me, too. Andrew, in the last two episodes, you spoke to our listeners about the three habits around how to become a magnetic leader and also how to help leaders and managers really prepare to perform at their highest levels in the workplace. Both of those topics that help improve employee engagement significantly. Now today, we’re going to focus on how to become a trusted advisor. After this episode, our listeners will learn three habits to embrace to become a trusted advisor and why these habits are critical for leaders and managers in driving employee engagement. So, let’s get started. Andrew, define what a trusted advisor really is, and what it means, and how it impacts workplace engagement.

Andrew [00:03:23] Don, in short, a trusted advisor is someone who willingly and actually is consulted before you take action or decide on what action you will take. And if you are in that position of being a trusted advisor, either for a customer or for your employee, or as a salesperson and a leader, it’s really a high honor and takes a lot to achieve that. And what you can expect as a result is to have a seat at the table, so you’re included in conversations right from the beginning of the process.

Don [00:03:54] Yeah. And we think of these collaborative leaders as just being much more effective because then the things that they decide, the decisions they make don’t feel like they’re out of the blue, or they don’t blindside people. But, tell me how and why is it particularly important as a leader and a manager to work toward establishing themselves as a trusted advisor. How does this help the company or the organization?

Andrew [00:04:19] Well, Don, we know that one of the strong things that motivates employees is their perceived autonomy, and they don’t like being micromanaged, and because micromanaging people is demotivating for them. What you’d rather have as a leader is a situation where people come to you if and only if they need your input on something that’s both efficient for you and for your time, and it leaves them with a feeling that they’re trusted and they have the autonomy to act on their own. So, by preserving their autonomy – a key motivation driver – while ensuring your expertise and leadership is called on when needed, that trusted advisor status allows the business to progress with speed and efficiency.

Don [00:05:06] And we see this as well when we go into organizations, Andrew. When we use our 28-question online survey on engagement, sometimes the first thing we see: Is this a manager who does things with employees or to employees? And the manager that does things to employees – top down, hierarchical, rarely consultative – those work groups are rarely as engaged as those with a manager who does things with employees. And I think you’ve captured it here too – that manager that can do it with employees does become more trusted and their direct reports are more likely to go to them to both provide input and to seek input.

Andrew [00:05:44] Yeah. I love that distinction between doing it with or doing it to. And you know, as a leader, or in my case, as a leader who is also a salesperson, I know I’ve reached this point of being a trusted advisor. When I get a particular type of call like I did last month from a customer, they call to say, “Andrew we’re thinking about developing a new leadership development program, and I’d like to get your input before we decide if and how we should do this.” And that kind of call for me is a real privilege to receive and a strong signal that over time we’ve provided enough trustable advice that this customer thought to call us first before they made any decisions, in fact, while they were just thinking about possibly doing or creating a program.

Don [00:06:35] Yeah. What their call is they’re hoping to not just to be sold to, but they want you to help guide them. And it may be that what you guide them toward or what they decide to do is to use your services. But first and foremost, they want to run some ideas past you because they see you as an expert and one who they can trust and rely on. That is an honor. Yeah. Let’s dive in. How does one become a trusted advisor?

Andrew [00:06:58] Well, Don, in previous episodes, we’ve talked about the importance of some habits like asking questions, listening empathically, and asking for feedback to create you as a magnetic leader or salesperson or manager. And that’s a great place to start, but once you have people drawn to you, who want to be in your presence, the question is: What do you do with that attention? And that’s where the habits of being a trusted advisor come in. Trusted advisors excel in three more habits: the habit of telling stories, of presenting ideas, and of building trust.

Don [00:07:36] So, can we break each one of these down for our listeners and just take a little bit of a deeper dive in each one.

Andrew [00:07:42] Sure. And telling stories is the safest way to share facts and figures and advice and direction without feeling threatening or argumentative to the person to whom you’re speaking.

Facts and figures on their own often only harden people’s pre-existing opinions because they often see them as threats to what they already believe. But stories change minds.

And if you’re familiar with that old Trojan Horse legend, I like to think of stories as if they are a Trojan horse that carry new ideas from one brain to another. More importantly, stories carry emotion, and human beings, we know, make all decisions emotionally. Despite the fact that, when we look back on a decision we’ve made, we tell ourselves we made it rationally by looking at pros and cons in retrospect in the moment, it’s our emotions that drive decisions. So, stories are like feedback a gift to other people, providing them with the emotion they need to make the right decision. The clarity and the context that’s provided by the story, so that they can make the right decision and have the motivation to act on those decisions now. In a sense, it is the guiding pathway for action, where facts and figures seldom get that job done.

Don [00:09:06] Yeah. I’m so glad to hear you say that, and even some of the literature on difficult conversations – they all focus, it seems that they start with the facts. But, that’s just not my experience and that’s not what the science says where people make decisions either. And one other thing, Andrew, I think you’ll find interesting in some of the really fascinating brain mapping work that’s going on. There is apparently a group a pocket of neurons that only seem to activate, and they light up like a Christmas tree, but only in one instance – when they’re hearing stories. So, there’s even a part of the brain that has a unique attribute to dive in when that happens. I just I couldn’t agree with you more about the power of stories.

Andrew¬†[00:09:45] It reminds me, you know, from when we are three years old until we’re 103. All we ever want to do is listen to stories. So, whether we’re asking our mom and dad to tell us stories, or we’re spending billions of dollars as a nation on TV and movie, we’re addicted to stories. And it’s because, I think, as you say, there’s this part of the brain that just lights up when we hear them.

Don [00:10:06] Yeah. And we forget too, in our modern age that information was carried literally over decades through storytelling before words, language, printing existed. And literally for hundreds and hundreds of years, history was carried through storytelling and not by writing it down. The brain has a pension for it, no question. But, I want to go on to the second habit. What about this habit of presenting ideas? How does this habit help leaders and managers become a trusted advisor, to use your term?

Andrew [00:10:36] Well, think about the related habit of presenting yourself and not just an idea. If you care, you’ll be deliberate about choosing the way you dress, and the way you carry yourself, the way you speak, and the way you communicate. And those choices have a powerful impact on how people relate to you in a particular way. We are very judgmental of each other, and we are prone to putting people in a box. So, how you show up as a human being is taking control of the box into which we are put. And it’s the same with presenting ideas, or in a sense, dressing up ideas so they are pleasing to look at, easy to understand, and compelling to act upon.

Andrew [00:11:19] So, storytelling, we’ve already discussed, is one way of presenting ideas, but it’s not the only way we can present ideas. By, for example, sharing a stunning insight and the implication of that insight for a customer. For example, yesterday, I was reading a great post by the chief sales officer of Pinterest, a man by the name of Jon Kaplan, and he was pointing out the stunning inside effect that it’s not just kids and parents that have a back to school mentality at this time of the year – the beginning of September. But, all people seem to share this reset mindset. In early September, it’s almost as strong as that New Year’s Day feeling when you set a new resolution. He calls it a back-to-life moment. Now that might be a crucial insight to share with the CEO of a gym, for example, who’s seeking to boost membership. And the idea I might present along with that insight is to invest heavily in advertising throughout August, when competitors are all focused on the New Year.

Andrew [00:12:23] So, other approaches to presenting ideas include the use of analogies and metaphors. They’re a kind of story, but there are simpler structure. And also how we present data visually, knowing that people process information and remember it much more powerfully when it’s visual versus verbal, as just one example. Most people are terrible at putting together slide decks and worse when they’re presenting them. By following just a few rules based on how people process information, we can radically improve our presentation, as one example.

We always like to recommend never have more than one number or more than five words on a single slide, ideally accompanied with a visual that brings what you’re trying to talk about to life.

Don [00:13:11] Yeah. And I’m reminded just in our work in the neurosciences that one piece of research estimated that about 85 percent of what we retain in long-term memory are pictures, images, not text, not algorithms, not concepts, but the visuals. And the very first data the brain processes is what it sees, followed by what it hears, so it, the role of the visual, I agree with you I could never underestimate. And there’s also interesting research on, as we’re talking here, about slides and PowerPoint that there is an inverse relationship and the effectiveness of a presentation. The more words, the less effective it is. The more pictures and fewer words, the more effective it is. So, this just goes exactly to your point, Andrew.

Andrew [00:13:54] Imagine the power of then both telling stories in very visual language with a wonderfully supportive visual PowerPoint, how strong that would be.

Don [00:14:04] Yeah a visual language and visual images. So, we’re coming to the end of the podcast here, Andrew. One of the other things you mentioned was this habit of building trust as the third key trait to becoming a trusted advisor. Building trust might sound a little, I don’t know, a little bit intangible or subjective for some. Would it be possible to ground this habit a little bit for our listeners? What does building trust look like in the context of establishing ourselves as a trusted advisor?

Andrew [00:14:34] Yes, Don, of course, we can ground it. And it is a little bit intangible sounding, so perhaps the best way to illustrate that is to share the often quoted statistic that about a quarter or 25 percent of our most loyal customers became loyal as a result of how their complaint was handled. So, these are people who are disgruntled, are complaining, and at the end of a call, they become the kind of people who might put your logo on their arm as a tattoo. I mean, that’s the kind of radical transformation.

So, they were angry with the company and left highly loyal. Why and how does that happen? And in our view, it happens when people own mistakes instead of apologizing for them.

Andrew [00:15:17] That may sound radical because whenever we make a mistake we want to immediately apologize. But, for example, if I was late for our meeting today most people would say, “Don, I’m so sorry I’m late,” and then add an excuse like, “but you know the traffic was terrible. I live in Chicago, and it always happens,” and that does two things. One, it makes me feel better. But, as a result, I’m inclined to take no further action. And that’s a problem because the second thing it does is it makes you, Don, feel worse because from your point of view I’ve just signaled that I didn’t care enough about you to take the extra time and care and effort to plan for worse-than-expected traffic.

Andrew [00:16:00] So, if instead, Don, I said, “I am late, and there is no excuse for that,” I completely own my mistake. The impact this has on you, Don, is that you’re inconvenienced and you’re annoyed. And then I might follow up with a question. I’d say, “Don, may I ask what other impact this has had on you?” And then I’ll let you share how you feel and what impact my lateness caused you. When I do that, I signal a couple of things. One, I own my mistake, and two, I’m giving you the opportunity to share how it feels. And it’s almost always the case that we’ve annoyed people with our lateness or other areas, but we don’t give them the opportunity to express that when we just rush to an apology.

Andrew [00:16:48] So, finally, and this is the important part in building trust, I’ll say, “Don, now that I understand the impact that I’ve had. Here are two promises I can make you. Number one, because I’ve inconvenienced you and I created, in a sense, a mess, I’m going to speak a little bit more quickly, so that we can make up the time to address and solve the problem in our cause. And then number two, here’s my new promise: From today, you can always count on me to be on time in the future and to take enough time and effort to leave earlier to allow for an anticipated traffic.” So, my question to you, Don, don’t you think that that’s a much more powerful way to take responsibility, and it’s much less dismissive than a simple apology, even if it was a heartfelt apology? What do you think?

Don [00:17:39] Oh, I definitely think so. The apology, especially the one, and we’ve all heard it – traffic was terrible. It does send the signal. The first thing I think is: Well why didn’t you leave sooner? And I’ve been guilty of it myself. So, I don’t want to be judging others here, but I think acknowledging the impact on the other, a little bit of empathy is really important and very valid. It’s about a better, more sincere connection and not just a brush off.

Andrew [00:18:02] Absolutely. And in a mere conversation we’re having, it may not have been obvious, but the essence of building trust is around the act or the habit of making, keeping, and restoring promises. And there are three setbacks to that. The first is make big promises. That’s a declaration of intent, and that sets you up to become trusted. But, of course to create and build that trust, you need to keep those promises. And that’s the, in a sense, easy part. The third aspect goes restoring your integrity and owning the break in your performance when you do break a promise. And you would say, Well, why don’t you just never break a promise? But frankly, if you’re never breaking any promises at all, you’re probably not making big enough promises in the first place. So, our advice to building trusted advisor status is: A) Make big promises. B) Try to keep them. But, C) If you don’t, don’t just apologize. Clean it up. Discover the impacts and make a new promise.

Andrew [00:19:04] So today, Andrew told us how to become a trusted advisor, and he suggested and outlined three habits that we could develop and make a part of our life -around telling stories, the way we present ideas, and certainly doing that in a visual way, and how to build trust. And he just finished that making, about making promises, and acknowledging our impact when we have one on clients, and not just brushing it off with an apology. Andrew, I would like to give you the last word on today’s topic. Do you have any last thoughts on this subject of why it’s important for leaders and managers to learn how to become a trusted advisor?

Andrew [00:19:40] Yes. If your employees and your customers call you before they make decisions and before they act, you have influence. And in my view, influence is more important than, and always better than, having actual power because your consulted trusted advisors have a chance to use their influence to change the outcomes of discussions with employees and with customers. And that’s what we really want as leaders anyway. And that’s why for me being a trusted advisor is a status that is so important to achieve.

Don [00:20:18] That’s great. And thank you, Andrew, for joining us today, and we look forward to having you back next week to continue this conversation in the fourth of our series with you.

Andrew [00:20:27] You’re welcome, Don. Looking forward to coming back and seeing you next week.

Don [00:20:30] That’s it for today. I’m your host Don Rheem, and thank you for listening. Next week, we conclude Andrew Sykes’ four-part series on high-performing habits at work. He will speak on how to solve problems and negotiate, so that you get what you want while customers get what they need.

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