People are frustrated by a system that is failing them. Fears of job loss are widespread, and employees are running scared about the future of the workplace. Fear of automation, fear of regulation, fear that they lack the skills to succeed in the jobs of the future that don’t yet exist.

Against a turbulent backdrop of low confidence in government and societal institutions, business leaders stand out as having an enormous opportunity to (re)build trust with their employees.

Last week, we convened a panel of experts spanning backgrounds in journalism, HR, corporate affairs and academia to discuss why, when and how CEOs can seize this opportunity with both hands.

The demand is clear: people expect business to fix their problems. In the UK, appetite for CEOs to lead on change rather than wait for the government to impose it has surged 19 points to 79% in 2019.

The CEO is seen as someone who can affect positive change issues such as equal pay, discrimination, training, personal data, and sexual harassment. In other words, what people fear most are issues that business leaders can actually address.

But there is tricky terrain ahead. As expectations of business leaders continue to grow, so does the perception of the boss portrayed as venal and self-interested. 78% of employees in the UK expect leadership to tell the truth, but only half of them believe they actually do so. At the same time, employees are feeling let down by the C-suite’s failure to embody their company’s values or speak up on political and social issues.

Not only that, but only 39% of people consider the CEO a credible voice, falling far behind trust in technical experts (63%), a person like yourself (58%) and regular employees (57%).

Meeting employees’ growing demands of business leaders is essential for safeguarding the reputation of the business as a whole. Ultimately, if your employees don’t trust you, no one else will.

On the other edge of the sword, there are benefits to be gained from building trust among your employees. Trust measurably breeds loyalty, engagement and commitment, with 78% of those who trust their employer becoming active advocates for the company.

So: what do CEOs and their advisors need to do?

Among the solutions tabled: CEOs must strike a sophisticated balance of spontaneity with fact-based decision-making; CEOs need to model a healthy work/life balance; CEOs should take a stand on social and political issues that go beyond the business’ own interests; CEOs could do more to communicate their personal histories and the obstacles they have overcome to generate trust. Just to name a few.

The professional competence of business leaders has become table-stakes to employees and is no longer enough on its own to inspire trust. Now, employees are expecting more. Authentic communication with the employee base – on issues that matter to them – is essential for CEOs wanting to attract and retain talent, while strengthening the reputation of their business along the way.


The breakfast panel, titled ‘How to help your CEO fix a broken society’, featured:

  • Ben Marlow, Executive Business Editor, Telegraph Media Group
  • Anne-Marie Headley, HR Business Partner, Northern & Eastern Europe, Uber
  • Matt Peacock, Former Group Director of Corporate Affairs, Vodafone
  • Professor Sue Vinnicombe CBE, Women and Leadership Strategy, People and Leadership, Cranfield University

If you are interested in attending future events like this, or would like more information on our approach to Leadership Positioning, contact

The data referenced in this blog is from a UK-cut of the Edelman Trust Barometer 2019 focused on expectations of CEOs.