In the Age of Mistrust, Business Leaders Can Succeed By Being Authentic

It’s extremely sad to say that trust in CEOs and other business leaders appears to be at an all-time low these days.

Undoubtedly, there are those, the minority, who have given business and business leadership a bad name. However, the subsequent – and legitimate – pushback from broader society is not limited to the wrong-doers. The impact is felt right across the business world.

Worryingly, the annual Edelman Trust Barometer survey found that nearly two thirds of the 700 global respondents doubted the credibility of CEOs in general. This really cuts straight to a key aspect of leadership for me, as someone who holds that privileged position: Trust, and how to build it. 

Leadership is all about trust. And trust, to be genuine, must be earned rather than expected or demanded

We all know that, without exception, every single successful relationship relies on some element of trust – both inside and outside the world of work, in every part of our lives. Without trust, strong relationships cannot be built and good business can’t be done.

I recently read a book by a Harvard Business School professor which notes that trust matters more than competence when people weigh you up for the first time. Trust plays into every interaction we have at work, no matter how senior you are. At the end of the day, people do business with people and we all feel a lot better if we trust the person we are dealing with. 

Trust isn’t just important in our offline worlds. In today’s always-connected, always-on, social media age, never before have leaders been under so much intense scrutiny. On a daily basis, their actions, whether good or bad, can be picked apart on a world stage – the internet.

On the web you can build trust and destroy trust on an hourly basis, with millions of people you have never met and who know practically nothing about you. 

You only have to look at the recent United Airlines debacle for an example of this. A month ago, very few of us would have been able to name the CEO at United Airlines. Today, millions of people have formed a view of him and his company and felt compelled to share that globally. 

‘Fake it ‘til you make it’ no longer works

Leadership is all about trust. And trust, to be genuine, must be earned rather than expected or demanded. I’ve always believed that, in order to be perceived as a leader that followers feel they can trust, you need to have an insight into the real you. 

People are perceptive. If they think they are dealing with a façade, they won’t really know what lies beneath and it’s difficult to trust someone or something you think may not be genuine. 

Carl Jung talked about us having a persona, the concept of the social face the individual presents to the world, "a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and on the other to conceal the true nature of the individual."

In my opinion, in this day and age, that approach is no longer appropriate. Leaders should never put on a façade or a mask before they leave for the office every day, however tempting that might be. The ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ mindset just doesn’t work when your job is to build trust in order to effectively lead and inspire.

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