M is for David Maister: Being A Trusted Advisor And A True Professional

David is somebody who chose to do positive work. After leaving his role as a Harvard Lecturer, he spent the next 30 years advising professional firms in the law, finance and other sectors. He maintained that:

“My philosophy of business, and life itself, is that you earn and deserve what you want to get back from the world by giving first.

By the time he retired in 2010, David was acknowledged as one of the best business thinkers in the world. His approach went far beyond the intellectual language normally used in such fields. It involved both the heart and the head.

David gave the following advice to people embarking on a professional career. They should focus on the following three guidelines.


You need to do something you feel passionately about and be passionately committed to getting somewhere.


You need to understand how people – you, your clients and your colleagues – work.


You need to be somebody who has readily observable principles and be seen to actually follow these in practice.

People can then decide if they want to work for you or with you.

Writing in his book True Professionalism, David explained how to translate these principles into action.

“There are relatively few new ideas in business, if any at all. How often can one repeat the basic advice of:

‘Listen to your clients, provide outstanding service, train your people, look for and eliminate inefficiencies, and act like team players?’

“The problem, clearly, is not in figuring out what to do. Rather, the problem is to find the strength and courage to do what we know to be right.

“The lesson is clear: Believe passionately in what you do, and never knowingly compromise your standards and values.

“Act like a true professional, aiming for true excellence, and the money will follow.

“Act like a prostitute, with an attitude of “I’ll do it for the money, but don’t expect me to care,’’ and you’ll lose the premium that excellence earns.

“True professionalism wins.”

True Professionalism

David had already shown how to translate these ideas into practice in his book Managing the Professional Service Firm. He wrote:

“Two aspects of professional work create the special management challenges of the professional service firm.

“First, professional services involve a high degree of customization in their work. Little, even management information, can be reliably made routine.

“Management principles and approaches from the industrial or mass-consumer sectors, based as they are on the standardization, supervision, and marketing of repetitive tasks and products, are not only inapplicable in the professional sector but may be dangerously wrong.

“Second, most professional services have a strong component of face-to-face interaction with the client. As a consequence, definitions of quality and service take on special meanings and must be managed carefully.

“Very special skills are required of top performers.”

David wrote that every professional service firm in the world has the same mission statement. This involves delivering:

Outstanding service to clients.

Satisfying careers for its people.

Financial success for its owners.

Some firms actually do these things, wrote David. Other firms write the words and then forget them. His book provided a vast resource of ideas and tools for running such a firm.

The Trusted Advisor

David then co-operated with Charles Green and Robert Galford to produce this classic book on the theme.

They outlined the following guidelines for becoming a trusted advisor to clients. Let’s explore these steps.

Trusted Advisor

Earn Trust

Writing in their chapter on The Development of Trust, the authors outline the following steps.

Engaging – getting the client to talk with you and acknowledge a need.

Listening – getting the client to share the emotional truth surrounding his or her problem areas.

Framing – helping the client view the situation in a fresh way.

Envisioning – helping the client establish where he or she wants to get to.

Commitment – confirming what it would take to get to the better future state.


Build Relationships

True professionals build good relationships. The key is to take the initiative to invest in people.

This will not always produce results. But it is a vital first step in any relationship.

Good professionals see networking, for example, as a way of going out to help other people to succeed, rather than self-promotion.

They are also savvy enough to realise that such giving can, if done properly, can lead to work that brings funding.

“People buy people,” we are told. This is true. People often buy from suppliers they know. They buy from professionals who:

Will understand them and their issues.

Will put them – the customers – at the centre.

Will make clear working contracts, perform superb work and deliver the goods.

Give Advice Effectively

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The Trusted Advisor mainly focuses on professional services that provide advice to clients. But the same rule applies in every profession.

If you are a supplier, does the advice or service you offer work? If so, you will probably get further business. If not, then you may struggle.

True professionals provide knowledge, models and practical tools that work. They then do everything in their power to help the client to achieve their goals.

Strategy and the Fat Smoker

Strategy and the Fat Smoker

David has produced what he says will be his final volume. In it he returned to the key theme of:

Are you serious?

Looking back at his own life, he described himself as literally a Fat Smoker. He was overweight and smoked a packet of cigarettes a day.

On the other hand, he knew what he must do to be healthier. He must exercise more, eat less and give up smoking.

Unfortunately he chose to go for short-term satisfaction.

Like many people and organisations, he knew how to reach his goals. This did not require any unique insight from a consultant or an epiphany experience.

But he kept choosing to be a Fat Smoker. That was until, one day, he decided to do what was required. He wrote:

“We often (or even usually) know what we should be doing in both personal and professional life.

“We also know why we should be doing it and (often) how to do it.

“Figuring all that out is not too difficult. What is very hard is actually doing what you know to be good for you in the long-run, in spite of short-run temptations.

“The same is true for organizations. What is noteworthy is how similar (if not identical) most firms’ strategies really are: provide outstanding client service, act like team players, provide a good place to work, invest in your future.

“No sensible firm (or person) would enunciate a strategy that advocated anything else.

“However, just because something is obvious doesn’t make it easy.

“Real strategy lies not in figuring out what to do, but in devising ways to ensure that, compared to others, we actually do more of what everybody knows they should do.

“This simple insight, if accepted, has profound implications for:

* how organizations should think about strategy

* how they should think about clients, marketing and selling and

* how they should think about management.”

David has now retired, but his work continues to invite people to return to the eternal truths and act upon them. This is something he has done all his professional life.

He has focused on his passion, encouraged other people and followed his principles. You can discover more on his website vial the following link.


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