Whom do you trust these days? 2020 was a shocking and challenging year on so many levels. There were so many lies, and so many ways to spread them rapidly. Are there any voices left that we can listen to with confidence?

Since 2000 the public relations firm Edelman has published an annual “Trust Barometer,” a global survey of which institutions are most trusted. I heard Richard Edelman speak about the 2021 findings, and they are startling. Here are some of the highlights:

  • The most trusted institutions at this time are businesses. The survey compared trust levels in government, NGOs (non-governmental organizations), media, and business. Only businesses were seen as both ethical and competent. NGOs were rated ethical but not competent, and government and media were rated both unethical and incompetent. 
  • Trust is local. Respondents reported higher levels of trust in their own employer than in business in general.
  • Fear is at higher levels. Some fears were directly related to the pandemic, such as fear of contracting COVID-19 and fear of job loss. But other fears were also high, including climate change, cyberattacks, and loss of freedoms as a citizen.
  • The most trusted source of information is communication from my employer. 

5 ways senior leaders can build trust with employees

These findings have very important implications for senior business leaders. There is a tremendous opportunity here for CEOs and other senior executives to exert powerful influence and build trust with employees. Here is my guidance for senior business leaders:

  1. Like it or not, others are listening to your voice. You cannot escape the fact that your messages are influential, but you can make choices about how to wield that influence.
  1. There is a good chance that you are starting from a position of trust. Don’t squander that trust. Speak and act with impeccable integrity. Admit what you don’t know. Use scientific facts to support your positions. Associate yourself with information channels that are known to be truthful.
  1. Your impact is greatest when you are speaking from your expertise on topics directly related to your role and your business. You may want to comment on issues that are outside your expertise, but others are more likely to be skeptical of what you say.
  1. People trust messages they hear from more than one source and more than once. Use partners and multiple channels to increase your influence.
  1. Make use of your company’s internal channels to build trust with employees — newsletters, bulletin boards, chat rooms, etc. Your employees are probably paying attention to them.

In this time of uncertainty, people are looking for voices they can trust. At the same time they are often very skeptical. Great business leaders will earn that trust and use it to drive progress and make great things happen. 

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