Danny Rogers: Tomorrow's CEOs must be a force for good

Edelman's annual Trust Barometer - the 2012 incarnation was unveiled this week - usually prompts a minor furore among the chattering classes.

Danny Rogers: Tomorrow's CEOs must be a force for good
Danny Rogers: Tomorrow's CEOs must be a force for good

But the overriding themes can be predictable. Declining trust in governments? Dislike of bankers? Scepticism towards tabloids? Don't hold the front page.

However, most striking from this year’s report was the crisis in trust apparently facing business leaders.

According to the UK survey, only 30 per cent of people now find company CEOs ‘credible spokespeople’.

This is pretty incredible. The very people running the companies are not regarded as credible. And yet 73 per cent of respondents seemed to trust the rather vague category of ‘academics or experts’.

Such surveys do tend to throw up illogical results but there might be an important issue lurking here.

For many years selective CEOs made great strides in building public trust. The former bosses of BP and Marks & Spencer, John Browne and Stuart Rose, generally did a good job. And the current leaders of Diageo and IAG, Paul Walsh and Willie Walsh (no relation) deserve plaudits.

Despite this, overall trust in business bosses has reached an all-time low. This must be partly a result of the lingering recession and rising unemployment. And recent outrage over ‘fat cat’ pay – involving failed bankers like Fred Goodwin on stratospheric salaries – will be a factor.

But, bearing in mind the growing public trust in one’s peers, there is an important opportunity here for comms professionals.

Big business can only grow in importance to society. The consensus is that private sector growth is the medium-term solution to the economic crisis.

Successful CEOs will be the catalyst to create hundreds of thousands of jobs. So the more talented, better-advised ones can fill the void in leadership that the Edelman survey so starkly highlights.

However, it is clear that such a challenge goes way beyond PR’s clichéd definition as ‘image manipulation’ or ‘slick presentation’.

The sharing of peer to peer intelligence – via social media – means ultimate scrutiny. So the next generation of leaders will have to be at the very top of their game in terms of shareholder growth, proven ethical performance and utmost sensitivity to the zeitgeist.

In the past it might have been enough for a CEO to be a ‘good communicator’. Today this is a hygiene factor. Tomorrow’s boss must go beyond this, to become a candid, credible – and ultimately highly trained – force for the wider good.

Also read: Edelman Trust Barometer reveals only 30 per cent of public rates CEOs as 'believable' spokespeople

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