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What makes a successful leader in today’s environment?

There are many debates surrounding the topic of leadership; are leaders born or made? What distinguishes management from leadership? How are millennials influencing leadership?  There seem to be many answers to all these questions, not all of which agree with one another, but the one thing that seems to be universally accepted is that the quality of leadership determines how well employees engage with and trust the company they work for.

The 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer survey showed that “the lower you go in the organisation, the less trusting people are”.  This must be very concerning for senior management; numerous studies report a positive correlation between financial performance and trust.  Research suggests that this is a key focus for executive development, but trust is one of those things that is difficult to explain.  This raises the question – how do you build the ability of your executives to develop trust? 

Emotional Intelligence

Understanding who you are as a leader, how your values and beliefs drive your behaviour and how that behaviour affects those around you is key to leading in a consistent and authentic way.  It is that consistency and authenticity that builds trust in you as a leader.  Any Executive Development programme needs to begin with understanding leader’s levels of emotional intelligence and identifying ways to improve it.


It is no longer enough to be a good communicator. Executives need to be able to articulate what their business stands for, what it is seeking to achieve and how it will achieve it.  Employees are increasingly looking for leaders who share their beliefs and values; this builds a deeper level of trust than purely behaviour alone.

Therefore, leaders need to find different ways to communicate and share values-based messages. Messages based purely on business facts are no longer enough. Instead they must include an insight into the values and beliefs that sit behind whatever is being communicated.

Any executive looking to develop and increase the trust also needs to be able to use storytelling effectively to communicate the business vision and values and engender an emotional connection so that employees feel engaged in delivering that vision.


Whatever your view on Millennials, the changes they are demanding of the workplace cannot be ignored. One of the demands, according to Forbes, is to be empowered to make decisions.  But leaders must trust their employees to empower them, adding more credence to the importance of trust in an organisation. Executives also must demonstrate that they trust their employees.


An organisational culture which empowers and trusts employees to do what is right for the customer is the one that will add value to the customer experience.  Organisations are facing constant change and leaders must create a culture that can deliver successful ongoing adaption and improvement. This needs to be a proactive, not a reactive process. Employees need to be empowered to identify what they need to do differently to meet a customer’s needs, be empowered to do it and be motivated to feed this back into the business either as a new way of doing things or as a spark for further innovation.

Building Trust

Building trust as an executive is different to building trust as a Manager.  Managers build trust through competence in their role, their ability to communicate and their empowerment of their team members. 

The trust that employees place in their executives is based on the leadership brand they see them demonstrating, on the integrity they show when handling tough challenges and the culture that they develop within the organisation.

What can be done to develop the ability of executives to drive trust and engagement?  The development needs to start in a safe environment, where executives feel comfortable to share their personal stories, receive feedback and reflect on how they can evolve their leadership style and find their own approach to developing an environment and culture of trust. 

Final thoughts

“In today’s world, that trust must be earned” (Richard Edelman). Uncertainty and change surrounds us every day, but an inherent need for stability remains, resulting in an increased demand for trust. 

Employees demand integrity, honesty and an alignment of personal values in order to trust in their leaders.  This calls for a different type of development. Furthermore, there must be an opportunity for executives to reflect on who they are, what they stand for and how they want to lead. It’s only by putting the issue of trust at the centre of executive development programmes that individuals can assess, build and develop the personal attributes that will deliver increased trust in them as leaders.

If you’d like to discuss how your organisation can build trust in leadership, get in touch.