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Becoming a Trusted Advisor

Perhaps you’ve been thinking about becoming an advisor and want to know more before jumping in? It’s something I highly recommend. Whatever your field or area of expertise, there are many ways to go about advising, whether in a formal or more informal role. Over the course of my career, I’ve acted as an advisor for my direct reports, colleagues and organizations. Currently, I mentor colleagues at Autodesk, am an Advisor to BreachRx (an incident response platform company) and an Innovators Evangelist for The Rise of Privacy Tech (TROPT) (an initiative bringing together privacy tech founders, investors, experts and advocates) It’s gratifying to see people and causes I came to know and care about succeed. In some ways, I became the advisor I’d wished for earlier in my career, and that too is rewarding.

Below are some FAQs about the basic nuts and bolts of advisory roles.

What is advising?

I’ve previously written about taking a mindful approach to mentoring. Advising is a cousin to mentoring and exists on a fairly fluid spectrum that ranges from giving out advice to family or friends to a formal role such as a company board member. Maybe you’re the parent who couches your kids’ sports team. The auntie the younger folk turn to help solve their personal problems. Does your organization have a structured mentoring program that assigns newcomers to a more seasoned employee? Or are you the one who reaches out to new colleagues to show them the ropes? Minority groups often self-organize within larger institutions to offer support and share pertinent information. Maybe you are in a position to give professional advice to business colleagues and clients. Corporate board members can play a crucial role in a company’s compliance and success. The point is that advising is a natural give-and-take activity for humans as its based on relationships. Although differing in contexts, formality, the bonds formed, and whether the work is paid or volunteer, advising involves offering your input, skills, and experience to assist, support, and counsel.

What the role of a Trusted Advisor?

You are a strategic partner, who has the company or person’s best interests in mind and are seen as an asset to help a company or a person reach their goal or pursue objectives. For that reason, it’s important to be able to listen carefully and communicate well. At BreachRX, for example, I act as an advisor and provide guidance on sales strategy, product development, hiring, communications, and I’ve provided introductions to privacy peers.

What Does it Take to Become a Trusted Advisor?

First, you need an interest in the activity or subject. Not only for your own sake but because a genuine interest fuels the optimism and compassion you may need to provide if the advisee loses motivation. It also helps if you have a passion or at least a commitment to the advisee’s mission or goals. In my case, I support BreachRX’s mission to help teams better handle privacy issues and automate incident response. Second, it’s important to understand the context where you are providing advice. What does the advisee need from you? For example, what is their business objective? You want to make sure that your domain expertise is a good match for their needs.

How do you develop robust recommendations?

Whenever possible, rely on your expertise and make judgments informed by professional experience. Don’t be afraid to directly offer your point-of-view by saying things such as, “If I was in your position,” or “If it were me I would think about. . . “ Be courageous in offering creative solutions and actionable recommendations to problems the advisees may encounter along the way. When you make recommendations, you should also point out any possible risks.

How do you build trust and why does trust matter?

Trust is the name of the game. Trust takes time, care, and attention to build and is easy to shatter. Trust is what allows you and your advisee to develop a strong relationship where your advice matters and is a reason you become sought after. While it’s good to be enthusiastic and positive, in my experience it’s also important to make sure you are delivering advice that is realistic rather than inflated.

What are the benefits of being an advisor?

Maybe you are reluctant to become an advisor because you feel it’s too much of a time commitment, you might make a mistake, or that you have nothing to offer. It’s true that advising does take time or at least the ability to juggle a number of responsibilities, so make sure you are in a place in your career where you have time to give back. Everyone has something to offer, even if it’s only support and a listening ear. As for mistakes – although it should be understood from the outset that no one is perfect, and clarify depending on the context that you are offering one opinion rather than issuing a set of directives that must be followed. In many cases, the rewards of being an advisor outweigh any potential downsides. I found it stimulating to share my knowledge in a new context, be creative and entrepreneurial, and learn from challenges. In some contexts, there may be compensation available in the form of consulting fees or equity.

How do I find an advisory role?

While word-of-mouth, referrals, and networking are best for seeking advisor roles, some organizations, such as the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) – where I have volunteered in several advisory positions - take submissions to serve on their advisory boards.

Other resources include:

· LinkedIn – note in your profile that you are seeking advisory and board position

· Boardspan offers specific guidelines and resources for potential Board member candidates. See Boardspan Candidate Resources: Get on a Board

· Pacific Community Ventures seeks applicants to their award-winning Pro-Bono Business Advising program that facilitates impactful mentorships between Small Business Owners and advisors.

· Mentor is a national organization that believes in the crucial role that mentoring plays in healthy youth development.

Good luck to you on your journey to becoming a Trusted Advisor.

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