What is a Consigliere or Trusted Advisor?

The CEO Consigliere (pronounced kohn-seel-YEHR-eh) could best be described as a friend and companion, a Delphic Seer, or a sounding board, thinking partner, and master psychologist.

CEOs are beginning to see the value of having someone on their team who is not only a friend they can let down their hair with, but also a trusted advisor they can use as a sounding board on major decisions and judgment calls in their personal and professional life… a trusted advisor who operates in a low-key, non-public way. One of the things I did in researching my book was to try to define the CEO Consigliore role with some granularity. I came up with that I call the CEO Consigliere’s Seven Key Roles.

The CEO & The ConsigliereThe Business Consigliere’s Seven Roles

1. Being first a friend who people can let their hair down with. Chief Executives live very isolated lives where they have to be on stage 24/7. JFK highly value first friend, John Powers, the hard-nosed Boston political operative who could share a moment of silence, rattle off sports statistics, or tell an endless supply of jokes.

2. Being a CEO Mentor. Peter Drucker was not only a thought leader who is credited with inventing management and a consultant to America’s biggest corporations, but he also was a mentor to CEOs, like Alan G. Lafley of PG, throughout his tenure. Lafley found Drucker’s ideas deceptively simple, but powerful, and held him in absolute reverence.

3. Helping the CEO find the path to power. Clark Clifford, often known as Washington’s Man of Wisdom, played a pivotal role in Harry Truman winning the impossible election against Thomas Dewey in 1948. He also helped Jack Kennedy deal with contretemps of the Saturday Evening Post saying that his Pulitzer Prize winning book was ghost written, something which would have spoiled his election chances.

4. Making great decisions and judgment calls. Most CEOs tend to make decisions as if they have only one option for the strategy, one option for the operations approach, or one option for the talent plan. One of the tremendous benefits of having a CEO Consigliore is making sure you have someone close at hand who can help you distinguish all the options available from those that you see. A consigliere with good judgment can help select the right option and is also capable of “truth to power”—having the ability to tell a sitting President, CEO, or a leader that they disagree with the leader’s view, or present them with facts that cause them to reassess their view.

5. Right hand person who does whatever. It’s not about who is the boss, but how well the CEO and Consigliore collaborate. Thirty executives had gathered in a conference room at Oracle’s headquarters to discuss business alliances. Ellison fidgeted in his seat, until finally he got up to leave, murmuring something about a prior engagement. Catz immediately sprang from her chair. “Safra grabbed him by the arm,” recalls one participant,” and said, “Larry, you can’t leave. This is important. And I know you have the time for this.” And he sat back down.

6. Minister without portfolio who negotiates a deal. When Yitzhak Rabin wanted to improve relations between Israel and the Palestinians, he sent Shimon Peres to meet with Yasser Arafat in secret in the desert at 3 am in the morning. Says Rabin, “I learned that the enemy didn’t have horns on his head.” The encounter was one of the meetings that resulted in the Oslo Peace Accords.

7. Master psychologist who returns the CEO to him/ herself. CEOs are just human beings with their own strengths and vulnerabilities. Like any human being with a vision or goal that is thwarted, they can lose their perspective and become very upset. The role of the CEO Consigliore is often to say the one thing that will give them their perspective back.

Find out more in the book The CEO & The Consigliere.