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Forgive me for being so brash, but the facts are the facts. One of the most enlightening moments of my 5+ year career as the Executive Director of TAA-TAW came recently when a CEO looked me straight in the eye and said “Trust, I like that word.” Quite simply, he had never considered it as a business strategy, let alone an imperative.

So why do CEOs suck at trust? Primarily because Boards of Directors do too. As I’ve said before, the crisis of trust that many describe is really a crisis of leadership. Why does it exist? In public companies, the reasons are simple. The Board and CEO are unwilling to adopt trust as a long-term strategy because it may, in the very short-term, impact:

  • Quarterly earnings
  • Wall Street’s support
  • Shareholder value
  • Their own compensation and tenure

And they are not willing to sacrifice any of these, even for one quarter. Case closed.

There are other reasons why CEOs in both public and private companies, suck at trust. These are just a few of the most important:

  1. They do not possess the core values required of a trustworthy leader- character, competence, consistency and generosity.
  2. They have not taken the time to find out what matters to the people they lead.
  3. They have never considered the benefits of strong corporate values and culture.
  4. They rely too heavily on their legal and compliance team, doing only what is “legal” as opposed to what is “right.”
  5. They believe that crisis repair is less costly than building long-term trust.

As I have said many times before, industry is not destiny nor is any company perfect. But when the Board and the CEO suck at trust, the chances are that all the employees will too.

Over the past 12 months, we have published three award-winning books in a series called TRUST Inc. and a new magazine called TRUST! Some of the world’s leading experts have weighed in on how organizations can not only improve trust with all stakeholders, but we have also proven that trust impacts bottom line profitability.  My guess is only a handful of the Board members and CEOs I describe above have read any of these publications. After all, why bother?

“Short termism” is a trust killer, that’s why. Yet it’s the strategy that most Boards and CEOs have adopted and choose to embrace. Too bad for them. It’s why they suck at trust.

I want to do my part to help reverse this seemingly never-ending cycle of mistrust in business. For the remainder of the month of December, any public company CEO or Board Member who emails me at barbara@trustacrossamerica.com with their name, title and US company address will be sent our complete three-book series at no cost, with no strings. Let’s see how many take advantage of this offer. What’s your guestimate?

Barbara Brooks Kimmel is the Executive Director of Trust Across America-Trust Around the World whose mission is to help organizations build trust. She is also the editor of the award winning TRUST INC. book series and the Executive Editor of TRUST! Magazine. In 2012 Barbara was named “One of 25 Women Changing the World” by Good Business International.

Copyright 2014 Next Decade, Inc.


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5 Responses to “CEOs “Suck” at Trust”

  1. December 9th, 2014 at 11:13 | #1

    I suspect few CEOs will contact you, Barbara, but I do feel that change is coming, albeit slowly. Institutional change invariably happens slowly. The status-quo forces are great. Bill George once told me he had given up on the current generation and focused his work on the next generation. Those of us in the “better brand of leadership” business can get easily disheartened but must continue our work. Perhaps we’ll fail, but I think not. Pioneers always get arrows in their back, but they blaze new trails for those who will follow. We can’t change human nature (there will always be bad apples), but we can influence human behavior. I believe our work will bear fruit, and the next geberation will appreciate our efforts. Hang tough, friend. Steady as she goes.

  2. December 9th, 2014 at 11:56 | #2

    Hi Bob- I suspect you are correct about the number of CEOs that will contact us.

    As far as change being slow… we know that trust and profitability go hand in hand. Imagine if we could tie an annual rigorous trust “audit” to CEO compensation. I’ll bet the tides of change begin to look more like a tsunami than a slow shift!

    Thank you for commenting.


  3. December 11th, 2014 at 13:04 | #3

    I’ve been a CEO of a public co, a private company, and a not for profit company. I work hard to establish, build and learn about trust.

    Generalizations about CEO’s are often just that and don’t reflect the many, many good people who are trying to do the right thing.

    The fact is that trust is important to ALL levels, not just CEO’s. In fact, the future CEO’s are working the way up the ladder right now…

    I wish you much success in the trust mission!

  4. Johan
    March 22nd, 2015 at 08:35 | #4

    Hi Barbara
    Would be interesting to know how many CEO’s actually took up your offer?
    Keep up the good work

  5. March 22nd, 2015 at 08:39 | #5


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