The Leadership Trust Crisis and What We Can Do About It With Stephanie Neal of DDI
Leadership trust is a concern for companies worldwide, according to Neal. The crisis refers to the decline in trust that leaders have in their direct managers and senior leaders in their organizations. Based on the Global Leadership Forecast, only 46% of leaders report trusting their direct managers to do what is right, while even fewer, only 32%, trust senior leaders in their organizations.
This lack of trust can lead to disengagement, low retention rates, and decreased productivity. Neal notes that this decline in trust is not unique to DDI’s research, but is also reported by Edelman’s Trust Barometer. The decline can be attributed to several factors such as Covid-19, generational changes, and work-related issues.
To address the Leadership Trust Crisis, companies need to take steps to rebuild it by creating transparent communication channels, providing leadership development programs, and holding leaders accountable for their actions. By doing so, companies can foster a culture of trust, which leads to higher engagement levels and better business outcomes.
Listening Time: 26 minutes
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The Leadership Trust Crisis and What We Can Do About It With Stephanie Neal of DDI
William Tincup: [00:00:00] This is William Tink, and you’re listening to the Recruiting Daily Podcast. Today we have Stephanie on from ddi, and our topic today is the Leadership Trust Crisis and what we can do about it. So let’s just do introductions first, Stephanie, would you do us a favor and introduce both yourself and ddi?
Stephanie Neal: I.
Absolutely. Thanks William. Sure. I am Stephanie Neal, director of Research in d i Center for Analytics and Behavioral Research, also known as CABER [00:01:00] for short, since that’s a long one. And d I is a global leadership firm that helps companies to develop. Hire and promote exceptional leaders. So that’s our mission.
I manage this great research project here called the Global Leadership Forecast, which D D I has been conducting for more than 20 years to understand current and future leadership best practices. So I’m very excited to be here with you today and to talk more about the latest trends in our research findings as well.
William Tincup: let’s just jump into the, this, uh, what is the leadership trust crisis? So I would assume that it’s, you started with research, but, but, but maybe not. Let’s just, let’s, uh, let’s kind of give the audience a taste for what is that crisis.
Stephanie Neal: Absolutely. Well, I think what we’re seeing, and we’ve been measuring, you know, a number of different factors in the forecast over the past 20 years, but one of the more recent, um, Kind of declines that we’ve seen has been in trust.
And this is, you know, not just unique to our research, [00:02:00] Edelman’s trust. Um, barometer also has been talking about a decline in trust. You know, overall, you know, people feeling they can’t trust any institution, whether it’s business, government, media, you know, kind of across the board, this general drop in trust.
And unfortunately, although the bright spot is that business is the most trusted institution, what we’re seeing is that. Leaders themselves aren’t feeling that they can trust their leadership at their companies to the same extent, um, that we used to see, and also just not the number that we would expect, um, especially when you think these are companies leaders.
So, um, happy to dig in a bit more about that. But I think, oh yeah, generally, you know, it’s this, this drop off and this lack of trust that is really concerning and of course makes it hard to keep people, keep people engaged, retain them, and to get, you know, the work done that we need to. So the three
William Tincup: things that came into my mind last night as I was thinking about this is, okay, what impact did Covid have on this?
You know, like, what, what was, if [00:03:00] we go back to 2018, 19 or whatever, yeah. Um, what was it before? Um, what did Covid have any I should have and not be assumptive of court? Did Covid have an impact on this? Two, is this a generational thing? Is this, everyone reevaluating their life because of Covid? Yeah. Uh, is it generational, et cetera.
And I go through the third, but let me, let’s stop there. Um, what, what do you think were some of the drivers for the, the change in, in trust?
Stephanie Neal: Yeah, those are such great questions and I think we should definitely dive into each of those cuz we also did, you know, as soon as we saw, um, this, you know, low rating for trust and, and just to be clear, what we’re seeing is only 46% of leaders are reporting that they definitely trust their direct manager, which means.
Less than half of them directly to trust their direct manager. And that’s to do what is right is the context, um, in which we ask them. So it’s about work, right? They’re not trusting what their manager will do, what is right and more troubling. Only 32% [00:04:00] said that they trust senior leaders at their organization to do what is right.
So that’s really, you know, less than a third. Um, pretty dramatic when we think about senior leaders needing to lead. Their organizations through these priorities and, and their leaders. You know, not even just employees, people at manager levels and above aren’t trusting them. So just to let you know what we saw over, you know, the past few years, including since the pandemic was, uh, Leaders really started to feel a lot more favorably about their senior leaders and their leaders overall.
So in 2020 we actually saw some of our highest ratings and some of our highest numbers. Um, oh wow. Not only for for trust, but also for leaders having more empathy, um, showing more empathy, and also for, you know, all sorts of good skill sets. Communication, you know, they were kind of rating leaders higher across the board in response to the pandemic.
And this is. It’s really following on the pandemic from March to May or July, right? Um, we, we saw these higher ratings and what was interesting [00:05:00] about it is it seemed that the more senior leaders were out there saying, you know, look, we’re gonna make these decisions because we care about you and your health leaders felt okay, they’re gonna do the right thing.
So thinking about what’s happened since then. And seeing that, you know, companies in some cases are starting to pull their people back to the office. Um, starting to make some decisions that maybe don’t feel as people oriented. Um, and possibly also not seeing as strong of growth as they did. You know, following on the pandemic and even the years leading up to the pandemic.
It seems like there’s this crisis right now of trust. And also we’re seeing some other measures where leaders are clearly concerned that, you know, Their organizations may not be headed in the right direction and may not be ready to meet the challenges ahead. So
William Tincup: what’s interesting about that is at the beginning of the pandemic, I, I, you know, said this probably a Julian times, but we, we basically would start off calls with empathy’s, like, how are you doing?
How’s your family? Yeah. You know, [00:06:00] what’s going on? Um, and I, and I, I even said it at the time, I’m like, I hope we don’t lose this. Yeah. You know, however long this goes on, I hope that we stay business stays like this. Like, okay, you have an hour long business call. The first 15 minutes are about, how’s everybody doing?
Um, and then the next 45 minutes can be all about, you know, all about the work and everything else, but, um, It seems like, it seems like what your research is telling you is we’ve, we’ve, the empathy part, um, we’ve gotten back to kinda the poor habits we had in 2019 and before where business was just about business and it didn’t kind of bleed over into the personal lives.
Um, but I wanted to ask you in terms of some of the things that may might have been driving the higher scores, especially at the beginning of the pandemic, was just the over-communication. That was the third thing is I was gonna get some transparency. Yeah, yeah. Is is, cuz I heard from a lot of people at the time, it’s like, I haven’t talked to my c e o this much ever.
I didn’t know, I didn’t know she know [00:07:00] my name. You know, like, you know, like, and it became one of those deals because it was chaotic. HR did a wonderful job of communicating, leadership, did a wonderful job of communicating, and then, you know, they, you know, maybe, maybe some of this is they felt like we were living in a more transparent space than we are
Stephanie Neal: today.
Absolutely. And I think that example that you gave about, you know, suddenly seeing the CEO e o in a way, right? Um, or feeling even, you know, more familiarity or more concerned from the CEO on a personal level, um, than people did in the past. I absolutely think that’s part of what’s at play here. And I think.
Just knowing that we saw ratings of communication, of empathy of senior leaders overall, just in terms of their quality of their senior leaders. Um, that was all rated higher in 2020 and we saw it actually kind of increase from, from March to May. Um, which was really interesting when it was, as you know, the time where all those companies [00:08:00] and those senior leaders.
We’re very much focused on getting to their people, telling them what’s going on, telling them what’s important, you know? Mm-hmm. And really, really focusing on people, but also on how we’re gonna get through this together. So there was really, I think, a strong message to your point about, um, you know, senior leaders feeling like they needed to be more visible, need the way, and that gave, you know, it was a huge boon to their, um, to employees confidence and feeling good about.
Their senior leaders. So knowing what’s happened kind of since even just the past year, um, where there have been companies that, like I’ve said, have pulled people back to the office, have maybe not been as clear about communicating and honestly it’s stepped that back because, you know, senior leaders themselves are part of some of these other trends we’re seeing where leaders are really feeling fatigue and burning out.
After leading through a crisis like this in a time of, you know, crisis after crisis, right? It wasn’t just the pandemic. There have been other things, um, obviously of impacting the world. And, and I think that’s, that’s another [00:09:00] driver of this too, is just that, that burnout that we don’t recognize necessarily for even those at the top.
William Tincup: We’re at a weird economic time where we have an abundance of, of jobs open. So, so there’s an abundance. Absolutely. It’s, it’s like a low employment, uh, unemployment rate. Yeah. And we feel like we’re, we’ve talked ourselves or feel like consumer confidence lies where we feel like we’re in a recession. Okay, so the two things usually don’t happen together.
Normally when you’re in a Right, normally when you’re in a recession, you’re down,
Stephanie Neal: right?
William Tincup: Yep. So, so that’s kind of weird. We talk all for an hour about that, but, but I also think that because of this feeling on the recession side, I think that you’re, we’re not seeing a clear picture of, of employees actual moving, because if there was.
If it was truly, if we were just at the economy that we really, by the numbers should have, I think we would see a lot of movement. I would see a lot of employees just not, I’m like, right now it’s kind of feels like the [00:10:00] beginning of covid in the sense of I’m just gonna hunker down and stay on my job.
Stephanie Neal: Yes.
And I think that’s what happens, right? Right. When people are feeling uncertain or vulnerable in that things could change and they don’t wanna put themselves out there in a place of risk. That’s right. That’s they don’t wanna take on too much risk. That’s such a, I think a good observation about where we’re at right now.
William Tincup: So two questions. One, does this return to the office? Like, I’ve made fun of this for so long. It’s, it’s become kind of a passe, but it’s, it’s like what was so great about 2019, uh, at the office that we have to return for other than our return on investment with rent and, uh, right. And, and having office space.
Like what, why do you, why do you feel like leaders. I mean, I know some of the arguments would be that soft skill development, some of the stuff you can’t learn over Zoom. Okay, fair enough. Great. But what, why do you think, why do you feel like when you see that, when you see a big announcement in the Wall Street Journal or whatever about someone return to the office, what, what
Stephanie Neal: goes through your mind?
Yeah. I think there’s two things, and I think one is, [00:11:00] um, The familiarity, like you mentioned, right? That’s what the workplace was. We saw it. You know, you need to be in person to collaborate and get this work done. Obviously the pandemic forced this radical experiment for everybody to realize, oh no, we can work, you know, more dispersed.
We can work virtually. We can get all this stuff done. So it’s maybe a little bit of this fear of like, Thinking that, you know, that’ll continue to be successful. Um, the other thing I think is some productivity paranoia, which I’ve, I’ve seen other thought leaders talk about as well. And I think what it really is, is, you know, being concerned that if you don’t see people working, if you don’t see, you know, These connections happening that maybe it isn’t.
So it’s, again, that’s kind of actually the lack of trust right there. Right? Right. Which is right. You need to extend trust to get trust. And I think that’s something that senior leaders are missing and they really need to help set that tone. Because starting, you know, trust needs to start [00:12:00] at the top, um, and get extended and then, Employees are more likely to return trust if they both, you know, feel that they’re being trusted and given these opportunities to, to earn that trust as well.
William Tincup: just wouldn’t as you, you called it an experiment, which is a wonderful way of looking at it. It’s like the experiment worked by and large, it worked, and if it didn’t Yeah. Okay. Then hyperfocused on where Yeah, hyperfocused on the areas or, or whatever where it didn’t work, but why? Paint everyone, everybody with the same brush.
It’s just again, a, it seems like, you know, it seems that we’ve talked about workplace flexibility for a hundred years. We finally got to a point where, okay, there is a massive flexibility. And so far as you don’t have to go to the office. You can work from home, and oh, by the way, the job still gets done.
Maybe it gets done a little bit differently. Okay. Like I, I, I, I think it’s a tell, so I’ll, I’ll go, I won’t ask you to do this, but I’ll do this. I think it’s a tell of a bad manager [00:13:00] that I have to, if I have to see you work, I think that’s actually a bad manager
Stephanie Neal: if I, I. I think the data to some extent bear that out too.
Just the things that we were talking about when we looked at what did make the difference for people with trust for these leaders to say they trusted their direct managers and they trust their senior leaders. It came down to behaviors where they showed they care about their wellbeing. Yep. Their prioritized on, you know, talent on people.
They’re, you know, focused on, um, Showing empathy. And that doesn’t mean just feeling it, it means displaying it. Right. And showing people that you care. So I do think, um, that that’s a really. I think well supported, um, hypothesis that you have or, or Good. A good suggestion. A working, it’s
William Tincup: a working thesis.
It’s a working thesis. It’s a working process. Absolutely. We’ll check in in a couple years, see if the data plays that out.
Stephanie Neal: Well, one thing that you mentioned just a little bit ago too was, you know, that people feel, you know, this, this collaboration needed to happen in the office. And I was just thinking about it as you talked about it, that in [00:14:00] 2019 and really leading up to that, the big push was not only for collaboration, but to making offices.
More open, taking down walls, right? Yeah, yeah. Getting people together to collaborate. So I think this was like such a strong, bought into change for senior leaders too, that that might be, you know, Lea that leading up to the pandemic was probably some kind of crazy timing. Um, that we were at a point where we thought, you know, you have to take the walls down and now here we all sit Yeah.
In our disparate offices. That’s, that challenges, that notion of collaboration, physical collaboration. I, I’m
William Tincup: so jaded. I think it’s just about real estate. It’s just about long leases. There’s that, that exists. So, uh, so I’m, I’m that jaded, but I wanted to ask you if, if you saw anything in the data between kind of mid-managers and frontline managers?
When I say frontline, I mean kind of further, further down the ranks, however you want to define that. But from leadership all the way to entry level jobs, if you will. There’s this whole middle management. [00:15:00] Did you see anything different with trust between middle managers and, uh, I’d say frontline or entry level jobs?
Stephanie Neal: Well, it’s, it’s interesting that you say that actually it was a bit opposite from what we expected, I think, which is that, um, lower level, um, leaders and also employees were more likely to trust. Their leaders, and it’s not, it’s so, it’s not just the level two. What we saw, if we looked at this, is more specific to trusting their direct manager.
Right. What we saw is that first level leaders are pretty well trusted by their employees. Um, mid-level leaders are pretty well trusted in terms of, it’s not worse, you know, right. Than what we saw before. But at the senior level, those that report into senior leaders report the least amount of trust when it’s their direct manager.
So now you’re taking away the proximity bias. Interesting. It’s not about just senior managers, you know? Not being trusted from afar, even though it’s directly reporting into them, aren’t trusting ’em as much.
William Tincup: What do you believe drives that particular thing? Cause I have a hypothesis, but [00:16:00] what, what is the data?
Stephanie Neal: What the video play out? I mean, based on what we see, I think it’s simply those using the behaviors that show people. That they’re trusted too. Right. So it’s again, going back to those seven behaviors we have in our, um, report. I’m happy to, you know, listen ’em out too. But empathy, concern for wellbeing and even just showing that you care about the people side.
I think most likely senior leaders, especially when they meet with their direct reports, we’re talking about still fairly high level leaders who they probably feel like, hey, You know, they’ve done this, they’ve proven themselves, they’ve got it. Let’s just focus on the business. And, and likely when they do connect with them, they don’t give as much concern to possibly coaching.
They’re focused more on, you know, the higher level execution, um, conversations. So I’m, my hypothesis there would be that it’s not showing as many of those behaviors that show you care about someone and where their careers going. Cuz it’s just somebody you know, you’ve already, you already know, is established and going.
But it’s also just a sh I think a, an opportunity. For leaders at the senior level to realize. [00:17:00] Okay. Maybe that this isn’t working right, um, in the same way. And it’s not about getting out of the way of that person, but also making sure that those next leaders down are feeling supported because they are burning out, right?
Um, and, you know, if you don’t show that concern, you could lose some of your best people and the next person that’s gonna, you know, help get all the work done that you
William Tincup: need. Which it’s, it for, for me, the, the, the leaders of a company, I believe they, they stepped up during covid and made themselves more present, more communicative, more transparent, uh, more empathetic, uh, all of those things.
Absolutely. And then, you know, towards the wa of, of, uh, COVID, I think that, that either they were exhausted or, um, they didn’t think it was that important or they didn’t think it was a part of the job. There’s something that drove that behavior of them not doing the things that they did so well for a lot of, uh, leaders, they did so well during Covid.[00:18:00]
So something, you know, and it could be multiple things. It could be some other things that are not listed, but just the idea that they would go back to behaviors pre pandemic. Yes. Something drove that.
Stephanie Neal: Yeah, you’re right. And I think a lot of it is probably, you know, a bit of both. You, you step away, you feel like you’ve done that good job maybe already.
William Tincup: Pat yourself on the back, play golf.
Stephanie Neal: Absolutely. And it’s just what’s the, what’s gonna reinforce that? And unfortunately we don’t want it to take another crisis or another, you know, great resignation. Right. Um, to cause leaders to feel like, okay, these are important things. And I think it, it really is often not seeing why, you know, What are considered soft skills, what are considered those really, you know, core leadership skills are so necessary, even as you get to the higher levels and honestly why they need to be revisited.
Especially now, you know, we’re talking about how you’re not gonna be necessarily. Running into people in a hallway, you’re not gonna be in the same environment necessarily as a senior leader who might [00:19:00] used to have walked the floor Right. And tried to see people. So if you wanna make those connections, it’s gonna require you revisiting those skill sets, I think, in a way too.
And that’s, that’s something that we haven’t always had as much pressure on senior leaders to do, I think. Right. Right. So it’s, it’s a unique time, um, for some of that too, which is also a great opportunity. Right, right. Um, one thing that you’d asked about, A little bit earlier on was about the generational impact of, um, You know whether that factors in Right.
For trust too. And I did just wanna say it’s something that’s interesting. We’ve found, there’ve been some generational stereotypes out there, I think about which generations are more skeptical or cynical and which are more trusting. Um, and and we did see that younger generations, especially those younger millennials, You know, down to Gen Z are more trusting.
Yes. And whether that’s their, you know, kind of point in time where they’re at in their career and they’re not in as high of leadership roles or whether that truly is a generational effect. We thought it was really interesting to see that, but they were much [00:20:00] more likely to trust. They just, they haven’t been through the wash yet.
It could be. I believe if we can talk about it, you know, in 10 years from now and see, I believe that
William Tincup: generations are all the same. They, they go through this cycle, the same cycle. It’s just, we call it different things, use different words, but basically absolutely, once you load up a, a person, a gen, gen Z with a mortgage, a marriage, couple kids in private school, couple luxury cars, you know what turns out they’re gonna have kinda the same jadedness that boomers and checks and everyone else that came before ‘
Stephanie Neal: em did.
Yeah, there’s, there’s many more similarities, especially when you take away kind that point in life. I totally agree. Yeah. Yeah. And I think that’s a good thing to celebrate. But what’s interesting is, of course, if you think about it, even, you know, at the point in time knowing that you knows if I was a senior leader looking out at my organization why I want, might wanna make sure, you know, I continue to reach out, um, and learn from.
Those younger generations. Even if, even if they are gonna end up, you know, very similar, there’s some good opportunity there to learn
William Tincup: from. Yeah. You know that, [00:21:00] know the audience for sure. I mean, even if that’s there, absolutely. As a leader, you should know, which leads me to one of. Two last questions. One is, is yeah, how do leaders, how do they get to know where they’re at on that, on the trust crisis, right?
So people that are listening to this, et cetera, are gonna go, ah, that’s not me, or, right, yeah, that’s me. They’re talking about me. So like, how do they put a finger on the pulse and get to know where they are with
Stephanie Neal: trust? Absolutely. Well, I think that’s why it’s so important, you know, honestly, to have your own measurement.
And there’s a couple of ways that senior leaders and companies can get at, you know, this themselves. They might already have something in place, you know, whether it’s part of an engagement survey or where they are measuring trust. But regardless, you know, you need to know how things are within your particular situation, within your particular organization.
But you also need to know our leader is doing a good job, and I think. As, as you become a more senior leader, it’s harder to get that feedback and that really objective or critical feedback. So we do see that assessments make such a [00:22:00] huge difference, um, in giving leaders, especially senior leaders, that self insight to know, am I doing.
The right things. And that’s, you know, not only the building trust, um, part of it, but all those other behaviors that we were talking about. All those good leadership behaviors like empathy, um, communication, you know, even providing strategic direction, focusing priorities. There’s a lot of things that senior leaders really can get value out of.
Um, knowing are their skillsets still, you know, the same that they expected, right? Do they have strengths they didn’t know? Do they have blind spots they weren’t aware of? And then of course that can be. Managed either through coaching or development, or both. Um, so I think there’s some great ways that leaders can, you know, kind of take the opportunity, especially now that we’re in a different kind of workplace, in a different part of the world, to, to check in on those skills too and not assume that.
But they’ve gained everything they needed to on the way.
William Tincup: Right, right. That impacts so many different things. Internal mobility, uh, [00:23:00] absolutely. Culture, obviously, succession planning. If one does that, it can impact so many different things. And again, even if you feel like as you’re listening to this, even if you feel like, you know what, I feel like I’ve got a pretty good feel for this and I feel like I’m, if I were to ask, I would probably be doing well, you know, don’t assume.
Let’s, I mean, that’s just don’t assume. Make sure you have the data to then back that hopefully that’s true.
Stephanie Neal: Uh, absolutely. And then you’re reinforcing those good behaviors so too, but hopefully, you know, making sure there aren’t any blind spots or any areas that I think we all know, you know, we’re on this journey to grow and to learn, right.
Um, whether it’s a career journey or part of life, but. Um, I think that’s such a good point that you’re saying, you know, it’s, when I used
William Tincup: Take the stock, when I used to lead on the corporate side, I’d always end performance reviews was, what can I do? Two questions and pretty basic, but basically, what can I do to erode or, or take away things that are holding you back?
Like, just what is it? I mean, I might not be, I, I might be able to, I might not be able to, but like, let’s talk about anything that’s holding you [00:24:00] back and let’s have a good conversation there. And then the other one was kind of off in the sense of, I’d say, Is there anything that I’m doing that pisses you off?
So you know, it’s kinda
Stephanie Neal: a good way to make sure you open it up. Yeah, yeah,
William Tincup: yeah. It’s just like, Hey, and every time I ask that question, I swear every time I ask that question, 10 years. I’d always get someone to say, well, actually, because you asked, boom. And then they’d say something. I’d be like, why, why didn’t you tell me?
Like, that’s so easy for me to change. Yeah. I was calling one guy, uh, his name was Brian. We worked pretty close together, but I was calling him Brian just to shorten his name, but it was no big deal. So I asked that question at the end of the performance review, he goes, well, actually, uh, you, you, I, I really don’t like the word pry.
I’m like, Dude, why didn’t you tell me? Like seriously? Yeah, we’ve worked together for a long time. Like, why didn’t you say these? Because I didn’t, I didn’t feel like I could. I’m like,
Stephanie Neal: well, that’s a fair, well, that invitation, so that just shows you right there. That question, that invitation [00:25:00] and opportunity for people to bring it forward is so important.
And that’s exactly why I think that you, you nailed around the head. You don’t wanna assume. Um, anything and that people would come up with us. Oh yeah. So that’s why it’s so important and that’s so important for inclusion too. I love that you asked that question. I,
William Tincup: I’d learn every single, every time I ask you the question, I learn something about myself and, uh, and also learn something about them.
So it was wonderful on both sides. This has been fantastic. We’ll get the link to the report so that people can see it when they go to the podcast, they can get a link to it, but if it’s, if it’s somewhere that, uh, if you wanna talk about it, that then you can.
Stephanie Neal: Yeah. Yeah. I will say it’s already just out there on our website.
Thankfully, we’ve made all the research available, um, to everyone, so you don’t have to go through GATE or anything. It’s on ddi world.com. Um, and you can access right there. The Global Leadership Forecast 2023. And I’m definitely excited for people to learn more through this research and hopefully, you know, tough wake up call in some cases for senior leaders, but certainly there’s things we [00:26:00] now work and that can help, um, to, to build more trust.
William Tincup: Thank you so much, Stephanie. Thank you so much for your time and coming on the podcast.
Stephanie Neal: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me, William.
William Tincup: Absolutely. Thanks for everyone listening. Until next time.
William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.