How Leaders Can Restore Trust in Turbulent Times

October 24, 2022  • Aspen Leadership Programs

Public trust and leadership are closely intertwined. The decades-long decline of trust in critical institutions—from government to media—complicates the work of industry and community leaders. For example, a lack of confidence in the democratic process and news outlets may lead to lower voter turnout and misinformation. This then impacts the relationships lawmakers have with their constituents. 

According to the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer, more than 60% of individuals believe it’s no longer possible to have constructive conversations about complex social issues. Initial reactions to those with different perspectives are those of distrust and skepticism. Leaders across all sectors are well-positioned to rebuild trust between individuals and institutions. Navigating these turbulent times may even define their legacy. This starts with extensive knowledge about those they lead, from their deepest struggles to their greatest successes. Below are several tips to help leaders be more effective and restore trust.

Prioritize alignment over agreement

Leaders of diverse organizations should strive to find alignment in the values of those they represent. Forcing agreement won’t benefit anyone, as many individuals feel they can no longer find common ground on complicated issues. Instead, try to understand the different needs and desires of the group. By recognizing the viewpoints of everyone participating in the conversation, you foster mutual respect and can begin to find areas where your mission aligns, which is invaluable to building trust.

Create brave spaces 

Echo chambers may be comfortable, but they are nothing compared to inclusive conversations. Creating a space where individuals with different perspectives can talk about pressing challenges is difficult. However, leaders should challenge themselves and those they serve to engage with one another. It takes bravery to confront our differences and share personal stories. But by doing so, we come closer to bridging divides and forging trust as a community. 

Demonstrate moral leadership

The greatest leaders show moral courage, write Jacqueline Novogratz and Anne Welsh McNulty in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. They protect and promote the values important to those with whom they work. The authors suggest that leaders should regularly examine and clarify priorities for themselves and those around them. Sometimes these priorities will require changing unjust systems for the better. This also involves self-examination. Awareness of your values will better guide you as a leader and clarify the goals you imagine for the people you represent. 

Encourage support systems

Advocating for what is right is not always easy. It also can’t be done alone. The best leaders surround themselves with peers who are unafraid to push back on engrained beliefs and shift perspectives. This group of advisors can protect the values of the community and ensure that a leader stays true to their mission. 

Start at the smallest level

We all have a role to play, but leaders have the opportunity to build and reestablish trust at the smallest level—between neighbors and within the community. Strengthening communication is vital to engaging in this process together. After we repair the trust individuals have in their local businesses, schools, and politicians, we can begin reconstructing the foundation upon which trust in larger and more formidable systems is built.

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