In my recent book, Trusted Advisors: Key Attributes of Outstanding Internal Auditors, I explored what it takes to ascend to the level of trusted advisor in our profession. Before I explored the nine attributes that outstanding internal auditors share, I reflected on what it means to be trusted. I noted that trust is defined as "the firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something." For a small word, it packs a powerful punch.
Trust is one of the most underappreciated words in the internal audit "dictionary." Without doubt, we talk about trust when considering whether we can rely on documents and assertions by management and those we audit. During the course of an internal audit engagement, we often contemplate whether we can trust management's intentions, and whether management can be trusted to be forthcoming and transparent when providing the information we seek.
I have even heard internal auditors use the clever phrase "trust, but verify," made popular by former U.S. President Ronald Reagan. Of course, he was alluding to reducing nuclear warheads.
So, while we use the word trust on occasion, it is usually in reference to whether we can trust someone else. Rarely do we speak of whether others should trust us, and rarely do we view trust in a philosophical context. Why not? Shouldn't our stakeholders have "a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength" of internal audit — just as we expect of them?
As I observed in Trusted Advisors:
"Shouldn't those we audit trust that we understand the business and will not simply be wasting their time over the course of the audit? Shouldn't they trust that we have good intentions and do not approach our roles with preconceived notions or bias? Shouldn't they trust us enough to embrace our insights, recommendations, and advice?"
In recent years, it has become quite fashionable to speak of ourselves as "trusted advisors." Candidly, I believe this is still a very lofty aspiration for many in our profession. To be trusted advisors, we must bring a litany of tools and attributes to the table. We must possess insatiable curiosity, be outstanding critical thinkers, possess deep expertise, and be great communicators. Yet, even if we can check the box for each of those attributes, we had still better be trusted.
As the late author and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar observed, "If people like you, they will listen to you, but if they trust you, they'll do business with you." As advisors, we need for those we serve to do more than listen to us. Our value won't be truly realized until they act on our advice. Quite simply, without trust, there is no trusted advisor.
I welcome your thoughts.