Leading in the New Age of Influence: 3 Simple Things Leaders Can Do to Build Trust

We've now spent a few posts discussing the results of the 2016 Edelmen Trust Barometer and the global consequences associated with its findings. By now, it should be evident that the ever-growing trust disparity that exists between the “informed” and “mass” populations is responsible for a variety of effects on the government, media and, most substantially, the business sectors. Edelman explains his findings:

“…in the U.S., 70 percent of the elite population express trust in business, in contrast to 51 percent of the general population, a 19-point difference. This skepticism is clearly manifested in the perception of specific industries… as CEOs are substantially more trusted by the elite population…”

If nearly half of the general population in the United States is expressing some form of skepticism toward the business sector, leaders of businesses can benefit their companies by taking deliberate steps to establish trust. This week, let's take a look at a few ways business leaders can work to build that trust. 

1. Tie Your Vision Into Positive Impact

With customers still cognizant of the Great Recession and the financial scandals associated with the past few years, it's no surprise many are still wary of big business and its goals. The result of this wariness is that customers want to align themselves with brands creating a positive impact in the world. As one of the global trust barometer slides points out, North American consumers trust CEOs much more when they can be described as honest, ethical, competent, transparent and sincere. 

Instead of running our businesses with just profits at heart, we must start considering the messages we send concerning our vision for the impact our businesses have on the world. And the results of the Trust Barometer prove this. Edelman notes that of those citizens interviewed

  • 57 percent claim CEOs don't focus enough on their company's long-term positive impact.
  • 80 percent felt CEOs could be more active in discussing societal issues such as income inequality and public policy, among a variety of other issues.

I've long believed that vision is incredibly important for leadership. Now, communicating that vision to your customers might be one of the most important things you can do to ensure your company's success.

2. Leverage Employee Advocates

Edelman's research indicates only 49 percent of citizens considered CEO types to be credible sources of information. Compare this to a much higher 67 percent who indicated they'd consider “a person like yourself” to be a credible spokesperson. This means our employees are generally our best and most trustworthy advocates. To leverage the power of our employee advocates, we must ensure they feel like valued members of our team, and also give them opportunities to share their viewpoints through social media, blogs and other forms of customer outreach.

Further, business leaders can practice openness and vulnerability themselves in an effort to connect with customers, instead of appearing aloof and disconnected. By letting stakeholders in, so to speak, we can build trust through the desired sincerity and transparency. Sharing personal values, success stories, educational background and tales of overcoming obstacles are all highly rated pieces of information that build trust.

3. Listen!

Along with sharing our own story, it's important to make company stakeholders (employees and customers) feel as though they're part of a conversation—not simply being lectured to. This can mean participating in social media exchanges on Twitter and Facebook (see Virgin's Richard Branson or Twitter's own Jack Dorsey for good examples of people who do this well), attending open forums and Q&A sessions, or simply taking extra steps to making yourself available to employees who have suggestions and feedback to give.

In any case, it's important to make sure we're meeting stakeholders where they are to engage in a dialogue. Figuring out how customers and employees are most comfortable communicating and making that communication work will go a long way to building extra trust in your business. 

A New Style of Leadership

Although CEOs and other executives may not have the same type of influence they once did, leaders can still take some incredibly important steps in cultivating trust in their business. Through communicating your vision, leveraging your most valuable advocates, and engaging in a conversation with all of your stakeholders, you can practice good leadership in the new age of influence. 

Al Eidson is the owner of Eidson & Partners, a business and marketing strategy consultancy, and a founder of SparkLabKC, an early-stage startup accelerator program in Kansas City. He's an expert in taking products to market and has launched more than 220 new products and ventures through his career. He's also proud of killing off a great many problematic products before they hit the market. His vision involves meaningful and lasting products through innovation. 

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