July 14th, 2023

I’m a bit obsessed with trust – what motivates it, how it is gained or lost, and how it influences our daily decisions. When I read Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Talking to Strangers”, I was surprised to learn that as humans we default to trust, and even look beyond red flags because of our faith in others. Yet, according to the 2023 edition of Edelman’s Trust Barometer, more people (59%) now default to distrust.

While trust in government and media is eroding, trust in corporations continues to grow, which is a positive sign for corporate leaders and Boards of Directors who are responsible for safeguarding the brand and that trust. The Endelman report revealed that 63% of respondents across 28 countries said, “I buy or advocate for brands based on my beliefs and values.” This means it’s more important than ever for business leaders to be personally visible, and for them to maintain or increase trust.

Building and maintaining trust takes authentic curiosity, courage, and connection with yourself, your customer, and your organization’s purpose.

Trust begins at home

A friend of mine used to say, “Charity begins at home”, to explain that before giving to others, you must be able to take care of yourself. To develop the kind of lasting connections that foster trust from others, we must trust ourselves. This doesn’t mean being over-confident. Trusting yourself means allowing yourself to be vulnerable, changing your mind based on new information, and trying new things without fear of failure or judgment. Resilient leaders are open to change and realize that this is not threatening – it’s growth. This means asking questions, recognizing that you do not have all the answers, and ensuring that you understand enough to make the right decisions for your team, your organization, or your Board of Directors.

Leaders who trust themselves are authentically curious – because they seek to understand, not micromanage. They are courageous – they trust themselves to challenge the status quo or offer an opinion that others might not agree with. And, they build deep lasting connections with their teams, their peers (or fellow board directors), and their customers. When you trust yourself, you fuel a learning and growth mindset, inspiring others to trust you in return.

Trust your customer

Customer-centricity is essential for successful leaders and organizations.  Too often we do not trust our customers enough to hear their objections or connect with them in authentic curiosity to understand what truly motivates, worries, or excites them. In a recent workshop led by Robin Treasure, author of Heart-Powered Sales, we focused on using empathy and intuition to improve customer connections. This was an excellent reminder that for leaders to build trust, they too must embrace deeper customer empathy, which will improve their investment in the future of the business.

Time with the customer is a gift, and this applies to the Board of Directors as well. There is a growing trend amongst Boards to engage more directly with customers, and one of the core benefits of diverse representation on a Board is that there is a greater opportunity to truly understand the product and the customer experience. Such understanding is crucial for serving as stewards for all stakeholders and shareholders. Courageous leaders are more open to hearing customer objections, and this fosters a culture of curiosity and connection, which ultimately builds trust.

Trust your purpose

“When we are surrounded by people who believe what we believe, trust happens, and then we are more willing to experiment and explore.” – Simon Sinek.

Purpose inspires stakeholders, customers, and employees. It puts our priorities in perspective so that we can make important trade-offs in challenging moments. Shared purpose requires being invested in the organization through concrete action, not just corporate statements, or goals. In fact, while good partnerships are characterized by shared goals and a commitment to each other’s success, great partnerships include shared values and purpose. Purpose should also be a guiding lens for Boards of Directors to pressure test decisions and to oversee risk and performance management systems that address vulnerabilities and increase shareholder returns.

As the most trusted institutions, businesses and organizations now have an even greater responsibility to define their purpose and to communicate it. This holds them accountable for delivering on their promises, from ESG goals to employee engagement programs, to stock performance – and it requires a lot of courage! By having the courage to open themselves up to debate, and live the purpose of their organizations authentically, leaders will create an environment of empathy, curiosity, connection, and trust.



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