Last month, we wrote that trust (or the lack of it) is on a lot of people’s minds. In addition, we urged advisors to communicate character and demonstrate competence in order to achieve breakthrough trust. Finally, we wrote that building character and competence hinges on being credible, reliable, honest and personable, and having integrity.

This month, I’d like to zero in on the importance of getting naked. By this I mean being openly honest and transparent in all your business dealings.

Thomas Jefferson once said, “Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.”

Clearly, telling lies is a great way to have this book thrown at you. But dishonesty isn’t just about telling lies. It’s also about omitting information or spinning the truth in order to manipulate people.

Sometimes, one can use words that are true on the surface, but that leave a false impression. Case in point: Kenneth Lay, the now deceased CEO of Enron, once said, “It’s always been Enron’s policy to be open with its accountants.” The collapse of Enron and the criminal prosecutions of Lay and other top Enron executives exposed the lie beneath his statement.

The second concept, transparency, goes hand in hand with honesty. In today’s Internet economy, it’s difficult to withhold information from people. If you don’t tell them, they’ll Google you and find out anyway. So your best bet is to tell your clients and prospects a great deal about:

  • Your credentials and business history.
  • Your business practices.
  • Your personal life.

Regarding credentials, be brutally honest about what degrees and designations you earned. In the old days, just ticking them off might have sufficed. But today, when people (and regulators) are more skeptical, it’s best to provide details about the granting organization and a list of the courses you completed. And never suggest that a designation provides you with expertise it does not actually provide.

Be totally upfront about your business history. Explain the high points and low points. Don’t be afraid to mention mistakes you’ve made and the lessons you’ve learned. The point is you want clients to see that you’ve earned your experience the hard way, by doing the work and learning from your mistakes.

Regarding business practices, be totally transparent about the nature of your work, with whom you are affiliated and how you’re compensated. Go beyond the required disclosures. Share client testimonials and case studies- both good and bad- to give clients a sense of how you think and solve problems.

Finally, give clients a clear view of who you are as a person. Show that you’re vulnerable. That you have feelings. That what they see on the surface is who you really are inside. Why? Because the quickest way to destroy trust is to come across as a phony.

So if you’re ready for breakthrough trust, get naked by embracing honesty and transparency.

If you do this, to paraphrase Mark Twain, “You will gratify most and astonish the rest.”