If all your advisors and collaborators do is compliment you and your thinking, you’re not going to change, learn, grow, or come up with the best ideas and make the best possible choices. That requires advisors and collaborators with diverse leadership approaches and strengths that complement yours so they can help you improve your influence and impact well beyond your current comfort zone.

Do this by crossing David Maister’s basic trust equation with the Gallup strengths model and the three types of leaders the world needs most, sprinkled with some comedy insights from Peter McGraw. As you build your network of advisors and collaborators, push for diversity of knowledge, skills, and experiences so you’re hearing different things from different people.


Basic Trust Equation: Trustworthiness = (Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy)/Self-orientation

  • Credibility – The knowledge, skills, and experience and the ability to communicate things that are valuable to you.
  • Reliability – Do what they say they are going to do on a consistent basis (integrity.)
  • Intimacy – Feel secure and safe with them.
  • Self-orientation – Have your best interests at heart, and care enough to give you their attention and focus.


Modified Gallup Strengths Model = Innate talent + learned knowledge + practiced skills + relevant experience


The three types of leader’s the world needs most:

  • Artistic – media, perceptions, new approaches to influence souls and feelings
  • Scientific – problems, solutions, better thinking to influence minds and knowledge
  • Interpersonal – context, the cause, rally the team to influence hearts and actions


Abraham Lincoln did this particularly well with his cabinet, building a “Team of Rivals” that had stood against him in the run up to his election and ended up joined in a common cause.

Similarly, Peter McGraw notes in “Schtick to Business” how Lorne Michaels actively seeks “complementation” in the Saturday Night Live writer’s room, “by bringing together the Harvard Lampoon comedians (heady, esoteric, joke-writing types) with the more Chicago, blue collar-style comedians (better storytellers), he gets a much better product with wider appeal.”

Others pick advisors and collaborators based purely on loyalty and devotion. They tend to end up with people with similar knowledge, skills, and experiences that spend more time complimenting each other than complementing each other.


Complementary Advisors and Collaborators


Look for complementary knowledge, skills, and experience. Build a network that includes some that work in different media, others with problem-solving strengths, and others that can push you interpersonally. At the risk of over-generalizing, you may not want your more artistic advertising advisors dealing with your more scientific tax or interpersonal legal issues.

And you’ll want people who come from a diverse set of backgrounds with diverse perspectives and experiences to help you see and think differently. McGraw describes the power of reversal – looking at problems from opposite perspectives to turn perceived weaknesses into strengths and create chasms versus others with meaningful differentiation.


Be clear on the difference between “will” and “skill.” Just because someone always does what they say, doesn’t mean they can do everything.

And know the difference between reliability and the stability that McGraw suggests makes people resistant to change. You need both creators on “event time” to generate original, appropriate solutions to problems, and more disciplined innovators to execute those solutions on “clock time.”


At some level, your feeling safe and secure with your advisors is on you. Stanford Business School’s former dean, Robert Joss, said only 20% of people have the confidence required to be open to help. That implies 80% of people will feel more safe and secure with people that spend their time complimenting them. If you want valuable help, you have to make yourself feel safe and secure with people challenging you.


Your advisors are going to run the gambit from parents biologically programmed to help you and your genes outlive them – to those who’ve chosen to throw their lot in with you as family, friends, and partners – to teachers, coaches, and doctors who devote their lives to helping others – to some hired guns who will put your interests first as long as you compensate them – to people who look like they’re putting your interests first, but are really just looking out for their own interests. Each can help you – especially if you understand their context, bias, and interests like Lincoln did with his team of rivals.