SATURDAY 21 MAR 2015 10:16 AM


It’s easy to point to leadership as the impetus behind most business decisions and strategies. But in communications, leadership relies on clear, effective comms and on trust between leaders and stakeholders. The IoIC, Top Banana and Westminster Business School released research this month into the relationship between leadership, communications and trust.

Only one in four members of the British public trust business leaders to do the right thing and one in five trust leaders to tell the truth. This erosion of trust has implications on the efficacy of business and can impact the vibrancy of the economy. “People tend to assume that trust is there,” says internal comms and events consultancy Top Banana’s MD and co-founder Nick Terry. “This report gives ammunition to the internal communications community to step up further as a trusted advisor, to challenge and support and coach a leader where trust may or may not be an issue.”

He points to the valuable role internal communicators can play in rebuilding the trust between leaders and employees and thus between employees and the wider public. The report emphasises, for maybe the first time definitively, the essential role line managers play in that relationship. “Often you’ve got the CEO who wants to do the evangelic presentation to three, four, five thousand when the important thing is to check and engage the middle managers first...If anything it just reaffirmed how important it is to make sure you have the trust of your middle managers. They have the opportunity for more stage time than leaders have.”

Steve Doswell, chief executive of the IoIC, adds, “The value of this report for communication practitioners is that it explains with academic rigour the unbreakable connection between leadership, communication and trust, it provides powerful arguments to make the case for trust-building communication styles, methods and behaviours and it provides a suite of practical insights to start supporting your company’s leadership on building trust in your organisation today.”

While the report sets out the framework for building trust in leadership, Terry says it is not something that can be achieved overnight. “Recognising that you have a trust issue then creating a strategy and approach that creates the exposure to the leader or leaders takes time. Yes it takes time to reset trust but you have to do it with authenticity, with transparency, with competence, with capability and and with benevolence.” If trust is addressed in leadership communications, as the report suggests, not only will employees see the benefit of more authentic, honest leaders, but consumers will begin to believe in business again.

The impetus for change, though, lies with internal communicators, says Katalin Illes, principle lecturer in leadership and development at the Westminster Business School, “Leaders have a key role to play in changing their own perceptions and helping the change process of others. The trouble is that most leaders are unable to recognise, let alone change, the structural habits of attention they and their organisations use to drive key factors such as trust. This presents a significant opportunity for communication practitioners.”

To read more about the ‘Leadership, trust and communication’ report, see Steve Doswell’s column in March’s issue of Communicate magazine.