“Our world is suffering from a bad case of ‘trust deficit disorder’. People are feeling troubled and insecure. Trust is at a breaking point,” said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres during his second address last September, distilling the lack of trust pervading the industrialised world. His was a sentiment confirmed by the latest Edelman Trust Barometer, which earlier this year revealed lower levels of trust than ever before.
So, it’s no surprise that the topic of building trust was top of the agenda at the latest Sequel Presents breakfast seminar which took place last Friday 29 March – on what was also the UK’s original departure date from the EU.
Rachel Royall, Communication Director UK at IBM Healthcare & Life Sciences, and Paul Richards, communication consultant and speechwriter, co-hosted an interactive session. “Now more than ever people are looking for leadership that unites and helps people to stay safe. As communicators, we must take a proactive role in guiding our leaders to regain and build trust,” said Rachel, kicking off the morning.
Expanding on this point, Paul said: “Trust can only be rebuilt if communicators are honest and fearless, show integrity, and most importantly display high levels of emotional intelligence. The modern communicator must be intuitive as well as rational and be able to steer leaders in the right direction.”
Members of the audience were presented with a series of images, each representing a powerful example of leadership, and a set of corresponding questions, before being asked to vote via Sequel’s Events App for communicators. Each image and live poll sparked a conversation about best practice in how internal communicators can support our leaders to build trust. Here we summarise each of the top trust-building behaviours to come out of Sequel Presents:
Great leaders, whether you believe they are born or made, are authentic. In this era of political lies and Brexit bias, Jacinda Ardern’s authentic response to the NZ terror attack has been praised for her compassion, eloquence and strength. Leaders, such as politicians and corporate CEOs, need not shy away from showing emotion or vulnerability; rather they should show their real selves, and be encouraged to communicate with a level of empathy which helps them connect with their followers, whether that be the public or employees.
Research has shown that consumers today believe companies need to do more to contribute to the greater good. On top of that, employees are happier and more motivated to work for a company when they feel they have a purpose in the workplace and are contributing to the greater good. Leaders should be encouraged to look beyond the bottom line and consider the social and ethical issues that are bigger than themselves, just like Iceland’s MD Richard Walker who led from the front and made the bold decision to stop manufacturing products containing palm oil and was brave enough to shine a light on the devastation caused by the industry through it’s Christmas advert. Watch Iceland’s Rang-tan advert here.
There is a huge opportunity for communicators, leaders and managers who interact with the public and employees every day in an open and honest way. Rachel spoke of the impact of negative press on staff morale and engagement that she experienced first-hand during her previous role in the NHS. A prime example of the benefits of transparent communication comes from BBC’s Hospital. The series shed light on some of the challenges faced by Nottingham Hospital, and as a result the proportion of complaints about clinical issues dropped from 75 per cent to around 15 per cent.
One of the most important qualities of a leader is resilience. Today’s leaders are getting barraged with roadblocks, let-downs and failed attempts at success. The true grit of a leader is not how they perform during the good times but rather how they display strength, courage and professionalism during the most difficult times. Despite the politics of it all, the speakers and audience agreed that Theresa May’s resilience and determination as the leader of Brexit negotiations is to be admired.
Consistency is one of the most important strengths in trusted leaders – especially when it comes to establishing a consistent culture and value system in your company or organisation. In his time as Manchester United Manager, Ole Gunnar Solksjaer has understood the importance of establishing a track record of performance. In business, as in sport, consistency, or lack thereof, can be the defining factor between failure or success.
By now, it should be no surprise that the most effective way to engage your audience is with storytelling. And leaders need to use storytelling as a tool to persuade, inspire, teach and motivate change in human behaviour. Some of the leading companies in the world use storytelling very intentionally as a leadership tool. Organisations like TransferWise, which uses the story of its founders to explain and define who they are, where they came from and their culture and values.
The 2019 Edelman Trust barometer focused on trust at work. This year it found a shift to local trust with ‘My employer’ emerging as the most trusted entity. As employers become more trusted, what does this mean for their leadership? It puts them in a powerful position. But as communicators, we also need to understand that there is still a trust divide along gender lines. To help tackle this we must encourage our leaders to focus on creating a diverse and fully inclusive culture.
Though often overlooked, emotional intelligence is one of the most crucial traits for leaders wanting to regain and build trust. Leaders with emotional intelligence not only embrace their own emotions but also understand others’ responses to their words and actions and refine their messages accordingly. According to Paul, emotional intelligence is vital in building a powerful emotional connection and creating an environment where workers feel safe to talk about new ideas and embrace the risk of failure.
Workforce (everyday heroes) 80%
Very much 73%
Not so much 27%
Very much 100%
Not so much