3 Key Ways For Executives To Build Trust

One of the toughest yet most important things an executive can do is build trust. Whether it’s with members of his executive team, lower-level employees, or consumers, trust is a necessary component for business growth and success.

And, in an uncertain world, people turn to their employers and business leaders as a source of truth more than ever, according to a 2022 global survey by Harvard Business School’s Institute for the Study of Business in Global Society and the Edelman Trust Institute.

In building trust, an individual can go where a brand can’t. People are naturally more inclined to trust a person rather than a brand or company. A business leader’s voice can have a profound impact on the trust level of the company. CEOs who understand this are able to build rapport with staff, executives, other industry leaders, and consumers. Brands, while they represent certain qualities or values, are still faceless entities.

What can an individual—in this case, a CEO—bring to the trust-building table that, on its own, a brand can’t?

Here are a few guidelines for building trust for CEOs.

Be Authentic

There is a growing dissatisfaction with fake, airbrushed leadership. When people see leaders trying to mimic the styles of others, like a Richard Branson or Steve Jobs, they see it as a sign of inauthenticity at best and lack of personality and vision at worst. (One exception may be Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos, whose shameless imitation of Jobs, right down to the black turtleneck, convinced hundreds of employees that she was going to change the world.) Leaders who forge their own style and are true to themselves are more likely to build credibility with staff, consumers, and other CEOs.

However, authenticity is something that can only be bestowed upon you by others. To be seen as authentic, follow these guidelines:

  • focus on the future while not losing sight of the past
  • rely on intuition gleaned from experience
  • retain your individuality while adapting to corporate and social cultures
  • ensure your words are consistent with your deeds.

Be Transparent

A leader who speaks openly about their brand, product or company is going to connect more often and more deeply with their audience than those who don’t. They are going to be seen as trustworthy, with nothing to hide. This type of openness, whether on social media or through earned media, conveys integrity and bolsters confidence in the company’s products and services.

Leaders who talk about the values of their company build trust with consumers who want to know if those values align with theirs. And leaders who are transparent about their vision for the company build trust with team members. People appreciate knowing the “why” behind business decisions. It allows them to see how their work contributes to the bigger picture. They feel more engaged and invested in the company.

Be Open and Accessible

A key component of building trust is creating an environment where employees feel comfortable speaking up and voicing their opinions. Knowing that their CEO is open to opinions that might differ from theirs creates not just trust but respect and loyalty. One approach might be to follow formal processes such as anonymous surveys as well as informal ones, like a once-a-month check-in about different topics. Openness and accessibility on social media also creates trust. Customers or industry-watchers and influencers who know that they have the boss’s ear, that he or she is listening and responding to feedback, are more likely to trust that boss’s decisions and strategies.

These three building blocks—authenticity, transparency, and accessibility—are just a start for CEOs seeking to build trust with consumers and employees. But they’re a necessary start for leaders who are seeking to run a company that can weather change and move forward into the great unknown.

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