The Edelman Trust Barometer - And Leadership

A few weeks ago, the Edelman firm released its annual (2018) Trust Barometer. [i]

Each year, Edelman globally tracks the levels of trust in various in various key institutions. Here are some sobering results from this year’s report:

  • Not unsurprisingly, global levels of trust declined in a number of institutions, reflecting a multi year trend. Earlier events contributing to this decline were: a) fear of job loss due to globalization and automation; b) the Great Recession, creating a loss of confidence in traditional authority figures and institutions; and c) the effects of massive global migration.
  • Across the informed public, the United States dropped 23 points, from a ‘trusted country’ to a ‘distrusted country’; it is now only seven points above Russia, which is at the bottom of the list! Edelman stated that this was the steepest, most dramatic general population decline the Trust Barometer has ever measured.
  • In the U.S., trust in NGOs, business, government and the media dropped between five and 14 points. In the same time period, China rose an average of seven points in all these categories.
  • Edelman attributes the significant drop in global trust to the ‘fourth wave’ of eroding confidence: significant loss of confidence in formerly trusted information sources and outlets. To quote Edelman: “Gresham’s Law, based on the 18th- century observation that debased currency drives out the good, is now evident in the realm of information, with fake news crowding out real news.”

More information about the scope of Edelman’s sampling methods, and their insights into current state of trust, can be gained by scanning the full report.  For our purposes, let’s reflect on the implications of these statistics for leadership:

  • Edelman’s report shows that the trust decline isn’t limited to the national political climate; almost every sector of the business community has earned its own trust decline by cheating, deceiving and abusing its employees, shareholders and customers, and making the situation worse by covering up the transgression. Examples: Wells Fargo, Equifax, Volkswagen, Uber, Apple, Weinstein and the list goes on.
  • Effective leadership requires trust—trust of the leader by the followers and the reverse.
  • To oversimplify the extensive research on trust, followers trust leaders based on three major criteria: they are competent to perform their jobs, they treat others well and they act with integrity (i.e. the leader is honest and walks her talk). Erosion around of any of these criteria diminishes leader effectiveness.
  • Trust in information conveyed by and to the leader is the primary driver of this trust. If employees and other stakeholders no longer trust the information—being able to distinguish what is true from what is deceptive—leaders can no longer be effective.

The implications of this tragic decline in trust are many.  It will take a very long time to rebuild trust in these institutions. While much can be done at the 1,000-foot level, the work can begin immediately at the one-foot level. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Do you trust your employees, co-workers, customers, suppliers and key support institutions (banker, accountant, attorney, etc.)?
  2. Do your employees, co-workers, customer and suppliers trust you? How do you know? When is the last time you asked? How can you find out?
  3. If you have a major trust problem, what can you do about it? You better begin to think about that, because trust problems, unaddressed, will significantly affect your organization’s ability to fulfill its mission.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.



Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.