Trust Me…I’m Your Leader

Understanding how to facilitate successful results between groups of people.

Do you trust your immediate supervisor or manager to do what is right? What about your CEO?

Before you answer those questions, let’s understand what trust really is. Trust in a person means you have a firm belief in his or her reliability, truth, ability, or strength. Trusting also means you have confidence in a person and you feel physically and emotionally safe with him or her. And there is also one other fact about trust: It takes time to build trust between people but only a few seconds to lose it.

According to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, a global survey on trust in leaders, institutions, government, and the media, only 47 percent of employees rate their CEO as a credible source of information. While this percentage may seem low, it is 2 points higher than it was last year. This recent assessment meshes with the Willis Towers Watson 2017 Global Workforce Study that found only 49 percent of U.S. employees had trust and confidence in the job being done by their organization’s top leaders.

How do your organization’s senior leaders stack up against these findings?

Let’s examine different things Learning and Development (L&D) leaders can do to raise the bar on trust in leadership.


Leaders must show consistency with integrity and ethical actions. These are beginning steps to creating the trust employees expect, besides appearing to be a positive example. Leadership coach Janine Schindler notes, “Consistently doing what’s right, even when it’s difficult, should be an integral part of a leader’s makeup.” Are these topic areas included in your leadership development curriculum? If not, plan to work them in.

Responders to the Edelman survey suggested three areas CEOs need to focus on first:

  • Live your values
  • Engage directly
  • Be visible and show a personal commitment, both inside and outside the company

Consider having your CEO and senior leaders teach the organization’s vision, mission, and values in your onboarding sessions. Have them also teach or be guest participants or panelists in your leadership development programs. Get them to share their mistakes and their successes in being congruent with their own and organizational values. It’s your leaders who set the tone and example for experiencing trust in the company. Consider that more than three-quarters of surveyed employees (78 percent) agree that the way a company treats its employees is one of the best indicators of its level of trustworthiness.

Perhaps the harsh assessment of trust levels with CEOs comes from the disparate roles and different levels of status and power between employees and leaders. Employees are more at risk on the vulnerability scale, and so trust is a big deal. As American scholar and leadership professor Warren Bennis wisely said, “Leadership without mutual trust is a contradiction in terms.”


Trust helps cement the employer-employee partnership, and leaders are the catalysts for making this happen. What signs of trust are apparent where you work?

Digging deeper into the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer survey, you’ll find clear signs of what employees expect from managers and leaders alike. For example, is there a commitment to diversity at all levels within the organization? This should lead to greater inclusivity in the makeup of employees, work teams, and leaders.

Management practices reflect their leaders or at least the perception they have. Think about how managers do with telling the truth. If they do well, is this because leaders are living the organizational values? Managers who openly communicate and regularly convey information to employees on the organizational direction and current state of the company often receive good communication from above. Trustworthy organizations have managers and leaders who make time and are open to employee input and feedback.

In an area close to my heart, you will find ethical and trustworthy companies refuse to reward people who achieve high performance levels but don’t care how they get the results. You should not promote people who do not uphold the organizational values either. Unless they will change their behaviors, dismiss these individuals from employment with the organization.

Where there is high trust, you’ll find leaders who are open and transparent. A by-product of these qualities is employee participation and involvement, even in areas such as strategy development and business planning. As CEOs embody the organizational values, employees at all levels will emulate their leaders and follow them.


When working with or coaching your leaders, help them build trust by developing strong character and displaying consistency in positive actions. Then they will gain the credibility for what they stand for as a trustworthy leader.

1. Character in leaders is when they live harmoniously with the qualities and values representative of a trustworthy leader. This means they are true to themselves and the people they serve. Have them take part in 360-degree feedback to determine their character standing.

2. Consistency is the steadfast adherence to good principles, personal and organizational values, and positive behaviors and actions. Consistent leaders are the same in the boardroom, on the stage, or with employees in the cafeteria and hallway. Explore senior leader engagement survey responses to learn employee perceptions.

3. Credibility in a leader is built upon strong character and consistency with doing what they say they will do, accepting responsibility for human mistakes made, a willingness to apologize and then make things right. Invite your senior leadership team to provide candid feedback to one another on their credibility level.

Developing trustworthy leaders creates strong employee engagement and produces healthy profitability. Plan to help your leaders earn people’s trust every single day.

Roy Saunderson, MA, CRP, is author of “GIVING the Real Recognition Way” and Chief Learning Officer at Rideau Recognition Solutions. His consulting and learning skills focus on helping companies “give real recognition the right way wherever they are.” For recognition insights, visit: For more information, e-mail him at or visit

Roy Saunderson, MA, CRP, is author of “GIVING the Real Recognition Way” and Chief Learning Officer at Rideau Recognition Solutions. His consulting and learning skills focus on helping companies “give real recognition the right way wherever they are.” For recognition insights, visit: For more information, e-mail him at or visit