Feb 26, 2016
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

Trust in institutions is no longer automatically granted on the basis of hierarchy or title; in today’s world, trust must be earned.”

This is the assertion of Richard Edelman, President & CEO of Edelman, in the new 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer global study.

The challenge for organizations

Social media and technology have created unprecedented access to information, and have afforded employees the opportunity to poll their social networks for insights and opinions, rather than blindly accepting data or decisions provided by company management.

If fact, the study revealed that most employees don’t rely on authority figures in their organizations for information due to a general lack of trust in business leaders. Instead, they seek out information from trusted friends, family and fellow employees to make decisions.

The challenge – and opportunity – for businesses is to reach these mass influencers in new and effective ways that easily engage peers and co-workers.

Employees key to the solution

The irony for leaders is that the study found employees are some of the most credible and trusted influencers, and when leaders encourage and support employees as company advocates, they have the opportunity to leverage a new cadre of trusted spokespeople.

According to Michael Stewart, President & CEO, Edelman Europe & CIS,

Virtually no spokesperson is more trusted than a company’s own employees. And yet, one out of every three employees doesn’t trust their employer. For nearly every company, deeper engagement with employees is low hanging fruit – and a direct avenue to growing trust in business, at both the organizational and institutional level.”

So the advice to leaders is to better engage employees to build their own trust in management, and then utilize these engaged employees to help the company gain trust with others.

How leaders can regain lost trust

Another research report, Experiencing Trustworthy Leadership, from CIPD and the University of Bath, outlines the actions that help generate feelings of trust between leaders and employees.

  • Close proximity of leaders and employees;
  • Strong personal relationships;
  • A propensity to trust upwards and downwards by both leaders and followers;
  • The avoidance of excessive use of electronic monitoring systems;
  • Leaders’ continuous demonstration of genuine concern for employees as people, rather than just as employees.

Compassionate, caring leaders wanted

What emerges from the CIPD research is that employees experience those leaders as trustworthy who they perceived primarily as human, personal and relational.

All of these findings present challenges for both aspiring and current leaders, as well as those charged within the HR profession for selecting and developing future leaders. Specific lessons for developing trustworthy leadership include:

  • The need to enable holistic leadership development;
  • The challenge of proximity in a mobile world;
  • HR’s role in building and maintaining trust;
  • The importance of trust for organizations, their leaders and employees.

Leaders as trust-builders

Leaders should engage in the following behaviors in order to build trust with their employees:

  1. Behavioral integrity – Consistency between words and deeds; aka “walking the talk.”
  2. Behavioral consistency – Over time and situations to increase predictability
  3. Sharing and delegation of control – Engaging in participatory decision-making with employees.
  4. Open communication – Providing accurate information and explanations for decisions.
  5. Demonstrating concern – Showing consideration, acting in ways that protects employees’ interests; not exploiting others.
  6. Communicating a collective vision and exhibiting shared values.

The post originally appeared in a somewhat different form on

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.
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