Yesterday, I spent the morning delivering a keynote on how trust is changing across the world and the kinds of leadership needed to respond at the Women of the Future Summit.
This is what I said in my opening remarks:
It is a great privilege to be here to open this summit and set the scene for today’s discussions.
My aim today is to paint a picture in your minds.
This will be a paint-by-numbers exercise – a series of statistics that tell a colourful and, at times, troubling story of how trust levels are changing around the world.
The point I want to land this morning is simple and indisputable. It is this…
The collapse of trust in our institutions is in part driven by the quality of our leaders. Without leaders we trust institutional erosion will only accelerate.
We need a new leadership model to resist what can feel like an unstoppable descent to entrenched polarisation, distrust and conflict.
I will end by offering a positive story about a female leader who I hold up as the exemplar of trusted moral leadership.
So, let’s start. There are five numbers that I want to stay with you today.
37, 1, 59, 50 and 39.
Together, these abstract figures illustrate that we are living through a period of profound change. They symbolise the powerful, disruptive forces at play.
A new terrain is being created that leaders now and the leaders of the future – and, by that, I mean you – need to navigate.
Now, I should start by saying that these are proprietary figures – they are taken from this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer.
Some of you will be familiar with our annual global study, which we’ve been running for the past 18 years. We survey over 33,000 people in 28 countries about trust across four institutions: government, business, NGOs and media in what is the world’s largest tracking study of trust.
Before I get into the stats, I want to add a caveat from the outset. With 28 countries in our research, it’s easy to look at macro trends in aggregate and miss much of the detail.
So, what I’ve tried to do is group country findings together where it makes sense to do so – and I’ve done this using the G8 as a proxy; ignoring Russia’s suspension, of course, as they’re an important benchmark to see what is going on.
But before I dive into all this, why does trust matter?
Why is it the theme for this conference today?
Well, because a loss of trust raises tensions, creates discord and can fuel conflict. It stifles progress and threatens previously well-functioning societies.
Without trust we are individualistic self-interested actors, each solely focused on maximising our own position, or the position of an entrenched group or ideology.
There is no common good.
Conversely, if you can build and secure trust you can move forward with confidence, coordination and strength.
So, some important issues to grapple with and a lot to cover! Here goes…
The first of our five numbers comes from across the Atlantic:
The United States saw a 37-point aggregate drop year-on-year in trust across all institutions – that’s Government, business, NGOs and the media taken together.
No country saw a steeper decline than this. And the tumble in trust is in marked contrast to China, which experienced a 27-point ascent – more than any other in our 28-country study.
Historically, our data showed that countries moved more or less in sync with each other. There were good years and bad years. This year, for the first time, we’re seeing a polarisation effect, with an equal number of countries pulling in opposite directions.
We are witnessing a world increasingly divided – a distinct split between extreme trust gainers and losers.
The picture is pretty grim generally. 20 of the 28 countries in Edelman’s barometer sit in the distruster category, meaning their average trust across the four institutions is below 50 per cent.
So, that’s the wide-angle lens. Let’s zoom in a bit.
Second number, and it’s a pretty lonely number:
Just one member of the G8 – Canada – can count on trust in institutions from a group we call the “informed public”. They are 25 to 64-year-old, college educated, top quartile of household income, who report significant media consumption and engagement in business news.
They make up just 15% of the population. You might call them “the elites”.
Back in 2012, we saw a gap between trust levels of this group and those of the other 85 per cent of the general population – the mass public. Those citizens on lower incomes with less education had lower opinions of institutions than did those on higher incomes with more education.
But in 2018 we see both the mass and the informed public in agreement when it comes to a lack of trust in the institutions that serve them. It seems that the elites are catching the same distrust flu as the mass did several years ago.
Informed publics in the UK and Italy registered a drop of trust of 4% in the space of one year, but again, America stands out – it went from having the highest levels of trust amongst informed publics in the G8 to replacing Russia at the bottom of the pile.
What is driving the lack of trust amongst G8 countries? The answers are fiendishly simple and complicated at the same time, but if there was a single graph that captures it this would be it.
Branco Milanovic’s so called “elephant chart” – complete with trunk – began life in 2012, hidden in the middle of a World Bank working paper.
The chart shows the distribution of income gains over a ten-year period. It is the chart that best explains what’s going on in OECD countries, showing a squeezed middle class seeing little improvement or even a reduction in income.
But perhaps an even bigger elephant in the room than the elephant chart, is that this data series only goes up until 2008. Then there was the financial crash, which hit many people in developed nations hard.
In these countries there is a genuine crisis of inequality. What we’re seeing is decreasing social mobility and diverging economic fortunes, most pronounced between the baby boom generation and millennials.
The central grievance is a belief that the system no longer operates fairly. The suspicion is that the game is rigged for most of its players, which is upending many of the settled beliefs about the benefits of capitalism, globalisation, free trade, and international cooperation.
People feel let down and this is translating as a lack of trust in institutions – after all, why trust the institutions that you think have failed you.
Nowhere is this more apparent than with the media, which is now only trusted in 3 of the 28 markets we look at globally. And this, for all sorts of reasons, is a major problem.
So, our third number…
59 per cent of people globally say it’s becoming harder to tell if a piece of news was actually produced by a professional media organisation.
The rise of spoofed news stories and public awareness of disinformation campaigns has coincided with the media being ranked the least trusted institution globally. This is a new phenomenon in our nearly 20 years of studying trust.
One thing that unites the majority of countries in our study is the concern about the potential danger of disinformation and misinformation. Nearly 7 in 10 of our global respondents worry about false information or fake news being used as a weapon.
And people are right to worry! Misleading and indeed false information has threatened to undermine the integrity of elections in the US, Kenya, South Africa and elsewhere.
Governments in Germany and France have introduced new laws intended to stop or punish the spread of false news, meanwhile in the U.K. and the Czech Republic there are now government units tasked with combatting disinformation.
We are engaged in a global battle for truth. Previously we haven’t had to worry much about the source of our news. You knew where to go for factual, impartial information, for the objective truth. The picture today is very different.
When even trust in the BBC slowly slides over time, there is a warning for society that we need to rebuild trust in our media. As we move ever closer to Brexit, we need a strong media more than ever.
It is a serious concern about whether we are getting factual information, whether facts are objective and whether people can have conversations based on accurate information.
A pertinent point, when you know that only a third of people think the media is performing well at guarding information quality and only half think the media is doing well at educating people on important issues.
And then of course there is social media, which is seen as a dubious information stew, with things like fake news and clickbait swimming around with high quality professional journalism.
Which leads us to our fourth number…
50 per cent globally are now disengaged from news content – consuming news less than weekly. People are turning away from media. People are tuning out and they’re switching off.
40 per cent of them say they are reading or listening to the news less than they used to. Around one in three people say that they generally try to avoid following the news altogether.
But what is most important is that, in Britain at least, the more educated and higher income you are, the more likely you are to avoid the news now. This problem of news avoidance is not a low-income problem, it is a top quartile income problem. The epidemic we spoke about earlier. This is it!
So, you’d think trust in journalists would be falling right? Well you’d be wrong.
Here’s the fifth number:
39 is the percentage of people who said they now believe professional journalists to be credible sources of information.
At first glance, this may look like a small number. And you’re right, it is. But it’s the year on year uptick that makes all the difference.
This number is up 12 points since last year. And it follows a trend right round the world of the turnaround in the fortunes of the “Expert”. CEOs, boards, government officials, industry analysts – all are up from last year.
We are seeing voices of authority regaining credibility. A resurgence of experts across institutions.
In 2018 we saw credibility climb to 63% for technical experts, go up slightly to 61% for academic experts, but – tellingly – fall to an all-time low of 54% for “people like yourself.”
I don’t want to overstate this: it is important to note that “people like yourself” – and by that I mean those identified as “people like me” by respondents – are still among the three most credible voices. Peer voices clearly have an important role to play in reaching those who are disengaged, but experts are having a bright moment because people are seemingly leaning toward them in the search for truth.
So, to recap the five trends my five numbers point to:
First, a world polarising – with a gulf in trust opening up – and some nations suffering from a crisis in trust.
Second, an increasing convergence of distrust amongst informed elites and the wider mass population across much of the G8.
Third, growing fears globally about fake news and disinformation.
Fourth, people reducing news consumption or switching off altogether.
And, fifth, expertise and voices of authority having something of a renaissance.
Now, with that backdrop, it’s very easy at the moment to feel like an observer of history during a period of immense change – that there is nothing you can do but watch as these elemental forces reshape our politics and our society.
But I believe we, as leaders, have a responsibility to address this trust crisis head on and with confidence. This all comes down to a new kind of modern leadership. Leadership to drive change in institutions to make them match fit for a game where the rules have radically changed. Helping them navigate new challenges and channel power in creative ways to rebuild trust and create hope for the future, just as previous generations did.
So, what does this leadership look like? For me, there are a set of core leadership principles that have stood the test of time; things like honesty, integrity, vision, charisma, and authenticity. But leadership is also about responding to circumstances and context. And, we are living through unique and challenging times.
In my mind, we require a new model of modern leadership – a model with four elements.
First, open leadership. Now I choose the word open very deliberately. There’s a trend right now to talk about transparent leadership. I think this is, frankly, naïve and unachievable. Instead openness is about access, visibility, presence, but it’s also about leaders rolling up their sleeves and really being in it.
Second, public leadership. In leading an institution – whether in the government, business, NGO or media sector – you must recognise your place in society and capture a sense of purpose that people can buy into.
For business that means leading companies that do their bit for the world and have a wider purpose beyond the selling of products and services.
In the media that means battling against the filter bubbles and standing for the objective truth, a buttress against misinformation. Leaders of media companies must get behind journalists and defend journalism 24/7.
And really it should come as no surprise that those most successful at leading media organisations out of this trust crisis have been journalists themselves – people like Mark Thompson at the New York Times or Kath Viner at the Guardian or John Ridding at the FT.
And I think there is an interesting clue here about trusted leadership. Whatever business you’re in, the leader really needs to have spent time in their career on the industry’s shop-floor – and build time as a leader back on the shop floor, engaged in the tricky decisions of the work.
But, it’s not enough to simply do it and expect recognition. Leaders in the new model must have the capability and personality to clearly communicate what they’re doing and why.
The third pillar of the new modern leadership model is adaptable leadership. With so much change happening – and the pace of change ever quickening – successful leaders must be fleetfooted and have the judgement to make big calls and tough decisions when needed. Agility and the unflappable character to work with constant change is key in the new world.
The fourth pillar is distributed leadership. It is impossible now for any CEO to master every element of their business or for a political leader to be on top of all aspects of government. There is huge complexity. There is a need for collective leadership – not delegation, but distribution. Building strong teams, treating people fairly and trusting in them.
Now, many of the elements that make up the leadership characteristics I just ran through were revealed in some polling around gender and leadership Edelman undertook towards the end of the summer here in the UK.
Our study found that four of the five most valued leadership traits identified – treating people fairly; communicating clearly and effectively; rewarding hard work of the people who work for them; and telling the truth – were more commonly associated with female leaders than male leaders. The only leadership trait where men were seen to outperform women – and only by a small margin – was not being afraid to make tough decisions.
We know that women are unquestionably underrepresented in leadership positions in the UK and around the world – in business, NGOs, the media and Government. Just six of the FTSE 100 companies’ CEOs are women, less than the number of male CEOs named Dave.
How is it that in 2018 in this country, as chief exec you are more likely to be named Dave than be a female?
This lack of gender representation in leadership is replicated across the globe.
Many of you here today will be part of the change to right that wrong.
But don’t be fooled, not everyone recognises the gravity of the shortfall of women in leadership positions and the proven benefits as a I mentioned earlier. In our research, only 4 in 10 men in the UK said their organisation lacks female leaders. If you think this is too low, then you’ll be even more shocked when I tell you that even fewer women – less than 3 in 10 – shared the same view.
These are worrying figures.
We unquestionably need more women in leadership positions. And we also need a more enlightened way of leading by men who lead. Not afraid to surround themselves with senior women and who are focused on creating opportunities for female colleagues to lead. I hope this conference helps identify some of the solutions through the course of today.
Now, I’m often accused of Dr. Doomery at these events, so I want to end with a positive. I want to take the abstract of what I have just said and turn it into a real-life example. Because of course, it’s the real life that inspires us.
So what does this leadership model look like?
Let me close this morning with the story of someone called Josephine Kulea. I’m incredibly fortunate to have got to know her and see the impact she is having.
I first met Josephine in 2015. Josephine works in Samburu, the tribal area of Northern Kenya, she rescues young girls from forced marriage and FGM. To date, she has rescued over 1,000 girls and is sponsoring more than 300 through boarding school.
Many of the girls who are forced into marriage are under 10. She is doing her bit to counter a global problem that sees 15 million girls under 18 married each year.
She’s won accolades and awards like the Humanitarian award 2017, UN person of year, and as a result of her work, now counts among her friends Christiane Amanpour, Michelle Obama, Melinda Gates, Cherie Blair… and to top it off, her work was recognised in a speech that President Obama gave in Kenya a few years ago.
She is an exceptional storyteller and her stories of rescuing young girls are both heart-warming and bone-chilling. Her own story began when her 10-year-old cousin was married off, and, shortly after that, her relatives attempted to do the same with her 7-year-old sister. She has been steadfast in putting an end to these practices ever since.
Over the course of the past several years, Josephine has gone from one woman taking on a handful of rescuees to an unstoppable force taking on hundreds, and she’s just getting started.
Her leadership style is open – she gets involved, asks for help and leads from the front.
She shows public leadership – her exceptional communication skills deliver life changing impact both directly and by inspiring others to act.
She demonstrates adaptable leadership – taking risks and tough decisions where needed.
And, she models distributed leadership – by building coalitions on many levels to build movements and get things done.
It’s stories like Josephine’s that remind us what leadership to drive meaningful change really looks like.
So, what are my hopes for the future?
We can and must resist the slide towards a divided and polarised society. The answer isn’t more liberalism but a new liberalism. A cohort of leaders who recognise and appreciate the genuine grievances that are dividing societies and, in turn, have new ideas and the desire to drive the change.
We need to promote leaders (men and women, young and old, diverse and from traditional backgrounds) who understand the current reality and are prepared to do the hard yards to build trust. Leaders for the new reality. People – I hope – like all of you in this room today.