1. Lessons In Leadership

It’s your job to be trustworthy

Business leaders need to step into the breach.

We all know that trust is critical to any relationship, business or otherwise. And we know that trust must be earned. But there is a huge variable in the trust equation, because we all start from a different place, even when sizing up the merits of the same person. I’m pretty trusting, so I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt until I’m proven wrong. Yes, I’ve been burned, but I’ve also met some truly interesting people. Conversely, I have contemporaries who start from a deficit position. They don’t trust anybody unless they come with stellar credentials and a personal endorsement from Tom Hanks. So they’re protected, but they miss out on a lot of opportunities. And of course, there are those who over-index on trust, like my dog, who will show anyone where the spare house key is hidden if you give her a cookie.

So, this is the challenge for today’s leaders, who clearly need the trust of the organizations they plan to lead. If I am the one asking for trust from a group of people, where should I begin? It’s daunting, because I don’t know if they are starting from a positive or negative place of trust. Even so, every business leader must ask themselves this question, because we live in a time that finds trust sinking to an all-time low. According to the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer and the summary report, “nearly six out of 10 people say their default tendency is to distrust something until they see evidence it is trustworthy. Another 64 percent say it’s now to a point where people are incapable of having constructive and civil debates about issues they disagree on.”

I read the barometer with great interest, and here’s my one-word review: depressing. The barometer traces a 20-year roller-coaster of climbs, dips and twists in evaluating how much the public trusts various aspects of government, NGOs, business and the media, and the picture is pretty grim.

You might say that for 2022, business has come out on top as most trusted institution — but its a 61-percent endorsement is nothing to brag about. I find it downright scary that business beat out NGOs (59%), government (52%) and media (50%). Thank you, fake news.

But here’s the kicker – and it’s the point of this blog. The Edelman Trust Barometer states that, in the midst of this trust bankruptcy, seventy-seven percent of respondents stated that they trust their employer.

No pressure.

Here are a few other compelling insights fresh from Edelman:

  • Respondents believe business is not doing enough to address societal problems; societal leadership is now a core function of business.
  • When considering a job, 60% of employees want their CEO to speak out on controversial issues they care about.
  • CEOs are expected to shape conversation and policy on jobs and the economy (76%), wage inequity (73%), technology and automation (74%) and global warming and climate change (68%).

What all this points to is that we need to look at trust as a core business competency. The days of pandering to the Board of Directors or the shareholders are behind us. Societal stability is essential to everyone’s success, and it is up to business leaders to restore belief that the system works. Transparency is essential — with clear, fact-based communication to break the cycle of mistrust.

Today’s C-Suite executives need to advocate for positive change, and we need to act in ways consistent with those beliefs. We not only have to earn trust, we have to honor it. And beyond that, we have to reciprocate. We need to be intentional about cultivating our ability to trust those we aspire to lead. We need to be inclusive. We need to listen and empower. We need to set a shared vision for a higher purpose that people are inspired to achieve.

The Edelman “Trust 10” summary concludes with this convicting statement: “The role and expectation for business has never been clearer, and business must recognize that its societal role is here to stay.”

Leadership. It’s a matter of trust.

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