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The Credibility Of CEOs Fell By 12 Points This Year To Just 37 Percent

There’s only one word to describe this: shocking.

CEO credibility

Recent global political developments have shown that voters’ trust in the political system has hit rock bottom. Although companies are trusted more than governments and the media, a rating of CEOs credibility at just 37% is alarming.

An example of how this has happened could be seen in the Trump and Brexit phenomena (do read the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, the report from which these numbers originate). It has interesting observations on how public concerns can quickly turn into fears, gain momentum through populist action, thus, further eroding trust. It’s a vicious cycle, which we have yet to see the full consequences of.

CEOs and business leaders, take note of what’s happening in the political world and let it be a stern warning for what can happen to your license to operate. First, a wide majority of the general public believes the government should be regulating business more, and there are quite a few populist politicians out there who are happy to score votes on “protectionist” agendas. Second, you don’t want to be faced with the consequences of populist action in the same way as political institutions in the UK, US, and many mainland European countries.

As stated in the Edelman report: “The onus is now on business, the one institution that retains some trust with those skeptical about the system, to prove that it is possible to act in the interest of shareholders and society alike.”

Authentic Leadership is part of the solution. Authentic Leadership is not just about being genuine, being your true self; it is also about “leading with a purpose for the greater good”[2]. And that’s what the general public asks for in order to reinstate their valuable trust, which is at an all-time low. This is the way to regain CEOs credibility!

Perhaps your company already has a purpose in place. Sadly, many statements, including corporate visions, missions, values or purposes, don’t credibly focus on the greater good. Many listed corporations base their raison d’être on “maximizing shareholder value”.

If your company is mainly about optimizing the return for shareholders, you and your company are guilty of contributing to the erosion of trust in business.

The general public will see it as fattening the wallets of the rich, at the cost of those in need.

Instead, consider how you add value to a grander cause, even if you do it because you know it’s good business (I do hope you will get hooked on this “Purpose for the Greater Good” thing along the way, though). The Edelman Trust Barometer is a good inspiration for how you can start. It says that the general public wants companies to be good to employees: practise good leadership, and provide decent pay. People want companies to have a positive impact on local communities, be kind to the environment, and produce ethical and high-quality products.

Consider some successful companies’ purposes:

  • Steve Jobs inspiringly said Apple was about “making a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind”.

  • IKEA, the Swedish furniture giant, has the purpose of making furniture affordable for as many people as possible.

  • ING, the financial services company, wants to empower people to stay a step ahead in life and in business.

“Making money” was not what they inspired their employees and customers with.

To all CEOs and leaders: let’s work together on reversing the trend of mistrust in businesses. Let’s authentically and genuinely show the world that we work not just for filling our and the shareholders’ wallets but also for the greater good. Lets restore our CEOs credibility.

By Mette Johansson, author and founder of MetaMind Training, which has just relaunched its Authentic Leadership program: Unmask the Leader Within

[1] – global values based on survey in 28 countries

[2] in the words of e.g. Bill George, author of “Discover Your True North”


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