It isn't enough for CEOs to demonstrate the ability to do the job. If they are going to win the trust of these working for them and break down the growing cynicism felt towards those in positions of authority, they need to demonstrate real personal integrity, too.
If we needed any more evidence that those in positions of authority face an uphill struggle to win popular trust, new research by the UK-based Institute of Leadership & Management reveals that almost a third (31 per cent) of employees in the UK have little or no trust in their senior management teams.
Based on a survey of over 5,600 employees, the Index of Leadership Trust found that on a scale of 0 – 100, CEOs scored an average of 59. CEOs of large public sector organizations scored 57 on the index, while the bosses of private sector companies rated a marginally higher 61.
If anything, the surprise is that the ILM's figures are as high as they are. In a 2007 survey by consultancy Watson Wyatt Worldwide, fewer than half (49 per cent) of the 12,000 full-time workers surveyed said they had trust and confidence in the their senior management, while other workplace research has found levels of trust in CEOs to be as low as 40 per cent.
But line managers fared rather better than their bosses in the ILM survey, earning an overall index figure of 69.
Senior managers in national/local government and the media emerged as the least trusted, while those in the charity and retail sectors enjoy higher levels of trust than all other sectors. And surprisingly, trust within the financial sector is high despite recent economic turmoil.
The research also underlines that trust takes time to earn. The longer CEOs and line managers have held their positions, the more trust employees have in them – and this is unlikely to be achieved in less than five years. So the lower trust scores of CEOs of large organisations is partly a reflection of their shorter periods at the helm. But more revealing than the headline statistics is the importance respondents placed on the six factors that are fundamental to trust, namely ability, understanding, fairness, openness, integrity and consistency. As far as CEOs are concerned, the two critical factors are ability and integrity. Meanwhile, although line managers are more trusted, employees expect a more diverse range of qualities and characteristics from them. As well as ability (top of the list) and integrity, line managers are required to demonstrate understanding, fairness and consistency.
ILM's Chief Executive, Penny de Valk, said: "Trust is crucial to the performance of an organisation, and a cornerstone of good leadership. Teams are more effective in a trusting environment, and people work better and harder if they trust their leaders. "But for leaders, being good at their job is simply not enough anymore. They have to be aware of their 'signal value' and how this is perceived by employees as a sign of integrity. The more senior you are, the more the gap between what you say and what you do – or what you don't say or do – is amplified. In recessionary times, employees are anxious and this spotlight will be yet further intensified."
In his study "Trust and Power", German sociologist Niklas Luhman sheds light on why the erosion of trust in political and business leaders and institutions has given rise to such pervasive uncertainty.
"Trust reduces the feeling of uncertainty. Trust makes a person feel more secure with regard to his or her acting or not acting. With trust, the person has the feeling of knowing what will happen in the future."
So the message for CEOs is that if they want to play their part in rebuilding this trust, both in themselves and their organisations, integrity and authenticity - not window-dressing and spin – need to move to the top of their agendas.