Six Advisor Mindsets that Change Everything

Most corporate training focuses on imparting knowledge, improving skills, and changing behaviors. But the most fundamental impact on your performance and success comes, arguably, from changing your mindset. Mindsets drive your outlook. They can bottle you up and restrict your freedom, or, they can free you to accomplish great things.

I know some professionals, for example, who feel at home in the c-suite. They approach a meeting with the CEO with excitement and energy. They feel they belong in the room.

Others have told me they experience feelings of fear and inadequacy when confronted with the opportunity to present in the executive suite. They’re concerned that they don’t have enough important or interesting things to say, and that the CEO won’t view them as a peer who is worthy of his or her time.

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The difference is mindset—how you see your role and feel about yourself. In a sense, it’s the “story” you have about something. For example, I was very fortunate in that I grew up in a family that had an education mindset. My grandfather, whose parents emigrated from Eastern Europe in the 19th century, became a successful urologist. His attitude—his mindset—was that you must get the highest level of education possible. He passed this down to my father, even setting aside money to help pay for my and my siblings’ college educations. My mother had the same mindset, but it came from a different circumstance—poverty. She believed that only by getting the highest level of education possible could you ensure that you wouldn’t be in financial need. As a result of that mindset—and with help from my grandfather—all four of the children in my family went to college and then got advanced graduate degrees. (Note: academic degrees aren’t the measure of anyone, they don’t guarantee success, and not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to afford them—I’m simply using this as an example of how a mindset—a story about how things work—can drive behavior!).

I see mindsets at work every day with my clients. Here are six of them that characterize successful trusted advisors:

1. The Independent Mindset. Great advisors are devoted to their clients, but they are also independent. In my first book, Clients for Life, I called this “Selfless Independence.” There are three types of independence you need to cultivate. First, intellectual independence, where you’re able to say “No” and disagree with your client when you feel they aren’t doing the right thing for themselves. Second, emotional independence, which means you don’t allow your insecurities and neediness to interfere with your objective advice. The third type is financial independence, where you don’t allow money—e.g., the prospect of earning a lot off of a sale—to influence your recommendations.

Do you exercise intellectual, emotional, and financial independence in your client relationships?

2. The Possibility Mindset. The most successful trusted advisors see possibilities for their clients, not limitations. They:

• Always look for opportunities, growth, and expansion.
• Are positive and upbeat in their demeanor.
• Feel that there are rewards enough to go around for everyone—they know that a “rising tide” lifts all boats.
• Try to see the positive side of their client’s ideas and plans (while recognizing what may go wrong, of course).
• Are willing to invest time and money in the short term in order to earn more later.

Professionals with a scarcity mentality, in contrast, have very different attitudes. They:

• Are primarily concerned with what might go wrong and what won’t work.
• Focus on the risks of new proposals rather than the potential rewards.
• Believe that life is a zero-sum game, with a limited amount of opportunity to go around.
• Are concerned with “getting their fair share” at all times.
• Won’t make investments that don’t show an immediate return.

If you were a client, whom would you rather spend time with? There’s no contest here: all of us would prefer a positive, visionary individual to someone who is always pointing out what’s wrong or may go wrong!

Is your tendency to see possibilities are limitations? Do you focus on abundance or scarcity?

3. The Skeptical Mindset. Trusted advisors have a Possibility Mindset but at the same time they are always a bit skeptical about what people tell them. They watch clients’ feet, not their mouths. They are convinced by observable behavior and data, not by mere words. Client advisors, metaphorically, all come from Missouri—the “Show Me” state. “Trust but verify” is their motto. When a client says, “We have great customer service,” your attitude should be, “That may be true. Let’s look more closely at that.” Have a doubting mind!

Do you have healthy doubts, that lead you to fact-check and investigate for yourself, about what your clients tell you about their business?

4. The Curiosity Mindset. As we mature from children into adults, our curiosity shrinks. We learn about constraints, develop an aversion to “wrong” answers, and become smug in our expertise. We no longer ask, like a typical five-year old, “Why?” (When our son was five, he asked us, “Can bobcats eat glass?”—go figure!). Albert Einstein claimed that important elements of his theory of relativity had its origins in playful questions he used to daydream about as a teenager, such as “Could I ride on a light beam?”

Great advisors have a deep sense of curiosity. They are always asking their clients, “Can you tell me more about that?…Why is that so?…What’s causing this?…Can you explain that?” and so on.

Are you “passionately curious,” which is how Albert Einstein once described himself to a friend?

5. The Knowledge Mindset. David Ogilvy, the advertising great, has a knowledge mindset—he loved to learn and based his create strategies on solid business facts: whereas many advertising professionals relied on “creative instinct” alone to develop new ideas, Ogilvy believed in carrying out in-depth research about every aspect of a company’s products, customers, and competitors. In his classic book, Ogilvy on Advertising, in a section entitled “Pursuit of Knowledge,” he writes: “I once asked Sir Hugh Rigby, surgeon to King George V, ‘What makes a great surgeon?’ Sir Hugh responded, ‘There isn’t much to choose between surgeons in manual dexterity. What distinguishes the great surgeon is that he knows more than other surgeons.’”

I believe it is the same with trusted advisors: The good ones know more.

Echoing David Ogilvy’s observation, leadership authority Warren Bennis told me once, “The professionals who develop into really great advisors are deep generalists. They develop a unique blend of knowledge depth and knowledge breadth.” This means reading widely—and outside their professional field.

Do you seek to continually build your knowledge base, both in your area of expertise and more broadly in the ‘ecosystem” (business, government, an industry, etc.) that surrounds your client?

6. The We Mindset. Trusted advisors view their work as a collaboration with their clients. Their goal is to help their clients shape and achieve their most important aspirations. This means collaborating—working closely together, engaging in give-and-take, and freely giving credit to the other person. In contrast, the typical “expert for hire” wants to have control in the relationship—their mindset frames their role as providing expertise that the client must use, “as is.”

Do you control or collaborate?

In conclusion: If you develop these mindsets, then the right knowledge, skills, and behaviors will follow.

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