CEOs are trusted less by their employees than they were in 2011, as revealed by the latest edition of The Institute’s ‘Index of Leadership Trust’ research.


With trust being an ever-present issue in the news headlines, The Institute decided to revisit this topic to undertake fresh research into current perceptions of the trustworthiness of today’s public and private sector organisations and their leaders.


The research is the fourth instalment in the series and calculates an overall trust score out of 100 across seven dimensions of trust (ability, understanding, fairness, accessibility, openness, integrity and consistency).  More than 800 business leaders and managers took part and the iterative research shows how the levels of trust have changed over the last seven years.


The findings revealed that trust in CEOs has dropped by eight per cent and workers trust their immediate line managers much more than their CEOs.  The research highlighted a 13-point gap between trust in line managers (70.6) and CEOs (58.0).  This is the largest drop in The Institute’s trust research to date, second only to the six-point gap identified in the 2011 research, which came towards the back end of the global financial crisis.


Interestingly, it’s been more than a decade since the start of that recession and the financial services sector has worked hard to rebuild trust among its workers – and it’s certainly paid off.  Senior leaders working in financial services are now considered the most trusted.  However, it’s not such a rosy picture for CEOs in local and national government, as they are the least trusted among senior leaders.


It’s also interesting to note trust can by lost or earned according to who leaders are as individuals, not just where they work.  At a time when gender equality regularly hits the headlines and there is insufficient diversity in FTSE boardrooms, more respondents said they trusted female leaders and female line managers than their male counterparts.  It’s a small, but relevant difference, particularly when there are only six women running the 100 largest companies listed in Britain.


So, what can senior leaders learn from this new research?  How can they rebuild trust across all their stakeholder groups – particularly when their own teams don’t trust them?


Kate Cooper, Head of Research, Policy and Standards at The Institute of Leadership & Management, said: “Our research clearly shows there is a lack of trust at the top level, but, interestingly, it is being maintained at the more personal level of line managers.  This is bad news for CEOs and should be a wake-up call for them.


She adds: “For any organisation to be successful, trust is not ‘a nice to have’, but is intrinsic to the culture of the organisation.  The more someone trusts a colleague, manager or team member, the greater the likelihood that they will collaborate, share information and work effectively together.  Trust helps organisations to run smoothly, increases engagement, improves processes, drives individual and team performance, ultimately benefitting the customer or service user.  The more CEOs are trusted, the more likely employees are to believe in their ability to navigate the organisation through difficult times of economic uncertainty, such as those we are experiencing with Brexit.”


According to Covey with Merril (2006), “the idea that trust cannot be restored once it is lost is a myth.  Though it may be difficult, in most cases, lost trust can be restored – and often even enhanced.”  This is reassuring for those CEOs who are now keen to focus on rebuilding trust in their organisation.


The Institute recommends the following actions to help rebuild trust:


  1. Ask them – talk to your employees about trust and ask what they believe needs to be done to rebuild it.
  2. Safeguard the future – create a trusted environment to make the right decisions together.
  3. Work at relationships – effort needs to be put into the leader / employee relationship.
  4. A united front – an honest analysis of senior gender composition and shared goals is important.
  5. Appreciate the demands of line management – with trust favouring line managers, they should persist in working on their staff relationships to support the team.
  6. Don’t forget the long servers – extend activities, training and development opportunities to all staff, regardless of experience or length of service.


For further advice and to read the ‘Index of Leadership Trust’ report, check out The Institute’s resources on building trust.



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