The Real Culprit Behind Today’s Crisis of Trust

August 31, 2017 Randy Conley

“An Implosion of Trust”—That’s the headline of the executive summary of Edelman’s 2017 Trust Barometer. Their annual trust survey and report goes on to cite grim statistics about the state of trust in the world:

  • Trust in government, business, media, and NGOs declined broadly over the last year, the first time this has happened with all four institutions in the 17 years Edelman has been tracking trust.
  • Only 29% of respondents say government officials are credible and just 39% say the same about CEOs.
  • The media is distrusted in 82% of the world’s countries, and in only five (Singapore, China, India, Indonesia, and the Netherlands ) is it above 50%.
  • 85% of people lack belief in the system.

It’s enough bad news to make you want to stay in bed and pull the covers over your head, isn’t it? (Note: These statistics are measuring generalized trust in a social and institutional context. For an excellent treatment on the importance and challenge of defining trust, read this and this from trust my fellow trust activist Charlie Green.)

We don’t have a crisis of trust so much as we have a crisis of untrustworthy leaders. Just take a look at Fortune’s list of the world’s 19 most disappointing leaders to get a feel for how many suffered trust-related gaffes. An institution is simply a collection of individuals who act in such a way that causes their constituents to trust or distrust the organization. Leadership sets the tone for an organization’s culture and performance and it’s there we need greater accountability for leading in trustworthy ways.

But what makes a leader trustworthy? There are four key elements to being trustworthy. You can easily remember them as the ABCDs of Trust:

A is for AbleDemonstrating Competence. Leaders who possess the skills, knowledge, and expertise for their roles earn trust. Able leaders demonstrate their competence by having a track record of success. They consistently achieve their goals and can be counted on to solve problems and make good decisions.

B is BelievableActing with Integrity. Integrity is at the heart of trustworthiness and it’s impossible to be fully trusted without it. High integrity leaders are honest, tell the truth, admit their mistakes, and act in alignment with their values and those of the organization. They walk the talk.

C is for ConnectedCaring about Others. Trustworthy leaders value relationships. They care about their people and act in ways that nurture those relationships. Connected leaders establish rapport with people by finding common ground and mutual interests. They share information about themselves and the organization in a transparent fashion, trusting others to use information wisely. Most of all, connected leaders are others-focused. They place the needs of others ahead of their own.

D is for DependableHonoring Commitments. Fulfilling promises, maintaining reliability, and being accountable are critical aspects of being dependable. Trustworthy leaders do what they say they’re going to do. They don’t shirk their responsibilities or hold themselves to a different (i.e., lower) standard than their team.

Think of the ABCDs as the language of trust. The more leaders focus on learning the language of trust, the more trustworthy they will become, the more trust they will earn from others, and the more our organizations will embody the ideals of trust. Download this free e-book to see if your leaders are building or eroding trust.


About the Author

Randy Conley

Randy Conley is the Vice President of Client Services and Trust Practice Leader at The Ken Blanchard Companies. Randy authors the Leading with Trust blog, and is a contributing author to the book Trust Inc.: Strategies for Building Your Company’s Most Valuable Asset.

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