Thought Leader: what is “Trusted” worth to you?

I recently mentioned how I’d come across Scott Ginsberg’s six-part definition of “thought leader.” As promised, here’s the first part of six expanding on his theme.


It’s funny to see this up front, because my resume has led with the words “trusted professional” for at least 11 years now. To me, it’s shorthand for two related but distinct ideas: trustworthy and responsible. The first, being trustworthy, is about being honest and honorable. It means, for example, that a colleague might rely on your character without questioning what you might have done in some sticky situation because there’s no doubt that you didn’t steal, for example. I don’t think that this should be a major point of contention — who does business with people they know upfront they can’t trust? (Sure, we’ve all done business of some kind with people it turned out that we couldn’t or shouldn’t have trusted, but that’s how experience turns into wisdom.)

The second sense, being responsible, is what I think Scott is aiming at. Here, Trusted implies that what you say has more value because your ability to deliver means that (1) you make and keep commitments, and (2) you can achieve results rather than being just good at coming up with ideas, i.e., you’re grounded in practicality.

And as I think about what I aim for when I’m advising clients, it’s also about having a solid sense of where your own core competencies lie, so that when I ask you a question, I know that I’m going to get one of the following answers:

  • Here’s the absolute right answer.
  • Here’s the best answer for you, balancing everything in the way that I understand everything that I know is important to you and everything that I know would be important to you if you knew about it.
  • Here’s the mostly right answer for your situation, and the cost of having the wrong answer now isn’t worth the cost of getting the absolute right answer.
  • Here’s a good working answer, and we’ll hedge our bets in case I’m wrong.
  • I don’t know, and we’ll find the answer.
  • I don’t know, but I do know that this is a big freaking deal so don’t do anything until I come back to you with the absolute right answer.

As I read these made-up answers, I realize that they are definitely part of “trusted.”

Counter-example: As part of a transaction I was putting together with a partner in the Middle East in which we were considering forming a new entity to serve as the joint venture between our US company and the foreign company. For a US joint venture, there is a simple default answer: you form a Delaware entity to serve as the JV. But my experience hadn’t extended to multiple-jurisdictional joint ventures that require tax-sensitive treatment to optimize total returns. So what jurisdiction is the global equivalent of Delaware? Isle of Man? Cyprus? Caymans? Vanuatu? I sure didn’t know anything more than that we were working on putting the deal together with a Kuwaiti or Dubai partner. So we called up some folks we know at a large law firm with a tremendous amount (as in over 150 years) of international experience. Our contact doesn’t have this direct experience and so passed us to his partners. I was on a call with them just a day or two later and I got this answer: “well, we can get you a Dubai lawyer to get the answer to that.” What? Why am I talking to you if you don’t know the answer and are just going to punt? If you don’t know the answer, you better tell me that you don’t (instead of pretending) and point me in the right direction. These guys, and conveniently I don’t remember their names, don’t fit my definition of “trusted.”

So, TRUSTED means reliable and outcome-focused.

What is that worth to you? Do you work with someone who exemplifies “TRUSTED” to you? Tell us in the comments.