Leadership Spotlight

Improving Effectiveness with Trusted Advisors

A stock image of two female business professionals conversing.

Leaders should have trusted advisors who honestly tell them how they perform. Do you? And, leaders should listen openly to the opinions of these trusted advisors. Do you?

Seeking Feedback

To continue improving, leaders should seek feedback continuously. Yet, for a variety of reasons, peers and subordinates may hesitate to be honest about how they view their leaders.

Organizations vary on what they consider acceptable as forms of leadership feedback. For example, many leaders have an open-door policy as long as employees follow their chain of command. This practice can prove beneficial between leaders and rank-and-file employees when followed according to guidelines, rather than used as a way to circumvent direct supervisors.

Further, some organizations regularly conduct anonymous surveys to determine the workplace climate, which can help leaders better understand the moods and mind-sets of personnel. Employees’ answers can shed light on overall morale and guide leaders to areas of concern in addition to what works well.

While an open-door policy can prove advantageous and anonymous feedback can offer necessary assessments, subordinates may feel uncomfortable sharing honest opinions about their leader. In fact, employees may question how anonymous their responses actually are and fear possible reprisal. To that end, leaders should identify trusted advisors.

Choosing Trusted Advisors

Trusted advisors should be chosen carefully. Key components in such a relationship are honesty and trust. Advisors should−

  • enjoy a proven professional reputation;
  • be highly regarded by peers;
  • have seasoned, yet diverse, experience in the organization; and
  • possess a complementary skill set.

Advisors can be truthful only with their leaders’ acceptance and with assurance of no retaliation. As a leader, how will those you select as trusted advisors know they can be open and honest with you? You have to tell them they have your permission to sincerely share their opinions—and you have to mean it. Such information is crucial for leaders to have an accurate pulse on whether their own behavior is positively or negatively affecting their organization.

Assessments should be straightforward, even when negative. To ensure effectiveness, leaders must remain open to what may seem, at times, like criticism from advisors. Leaders should regularly garner information from people they trust because such action is vital to ensuring their behaviors and decisions are transparent and not harmful to the agency, employees, and mission. Unfortunately, some leaders may have a blind spot when it comes to their own behavior.


Who is allowed to tell you that your behavior is compromising your effectiveness? Do you have trusted advisors to whom you turn to determine what it is like to have you as their leader? Do you ask them if you have particular behaviors causing disruption? Do you seek their guidance when making decisions that will significantly impact employees and result in strong emotions?

Strategically selecting trusted advisors who provide honest feedback may help prevent some organizational concerns before they even have a chance to arise.

Dr. Cynthia L. Lewis, an instructor in the Leadership Programs and Instruction Unit at the FBI Academy, prepared this Leadership Spotlight. She can be reached at cllewis@fbi.gov.