Why do so few Americans trust their firm's leadership?

Key leadership measures tracking behaviours that drive alignment and execution for organisations have declined since the start of the pandemic, says Gallup

Trust in leadership is, of course, crucial if any organisation is to run smoothly. 

But, according to Gallup, three key leadership measures tracking behaviours that drive alignment and execution for organisations have declined since the outset of the pandemic.

Most notable is faltering trust in leadership, with only 21% of US employees strongly agreeing that they trust the leadership of their organisation. 

This raises important questions about the confidence, morale and general wellbeing of the American workforce, and whether the ‘Great Resignation’ could be here to stay. 

Results for Gallup’s poll are based on self-administered web surveys conducted in each quarter of 2022. Questions were answered by more than 65,000 adults working full-time or part-time for organisations in the US. 

The Trifecta of Leadership

Gallup asserted that, when employees strongly agree that their leaders implement three specific actions, 95% have full trust in that leadership team. 

Those actions are:

  • Communicate clearly
  • Inspire confidence in the leadership
  • Lead and support change

The firm labelled this the ‘Trifecta of Leadership’ – in other words, a gold standard for which senior managers and executives should strive in order to gain the trust of their workforce. 

Communicate clearly

Reflecting on research spanning the past 20 years, Gallup highlights that employee engagement peaked in 2020, at the height of the pandemic. 

Writing for Gallup Workplace, authors Denise McLain and Ryan Pendell contend that this coincided with “a new way of seeing our leaders and hearing their thoughts”. As they became vulnerable, they listened more to their workforce. 

In the early stages of the pandemic, an astonishing 55% of employees strongly agreed that their leaders communicated a clear plan of action in response to COVID-19. By the middle of 2022, only 22% strongly agreed that their leaders communicated a clear plan of action for how they would move forward post-pandemic. 

Moreover, the percentage of employees saying they knew what was expected of them at work dropped to a record low in 2022. 

“Great leaders provide a clear vision for their people,” write McLain and Pendell. “They explain where the company is coming from and where it’s going. They also explain what the company will always do and what it needs to do now.

“When leaders clearly articulate their vision and the approach needed to achieve it, they offer their employees a road map for where to focus their energy.”

Inspire confidence

Like their staff beneath them, those in leadership positions were confronted by an unprecedented situation at the dawn of the pandemic. However, employees still looked to leaders for a source of reassurance as a ‘new normal’ quickly set in. 

Many rose to the challenge, but there is evidence that struggles have persisted in the ensuing years.

Gallup found that just 18% of employees strongly agree their leaders help them to see how changes made today will affect their organisation in future. In addition, just two in 10 feel highly confident in their leaders to manage emerging challenges.

“Followers don’t need the entire plan in detail,” say the authors. “They need a broad sense of the primary goal and the next steps to get there.

“By giving information in digestible chunks, leaders communicate that they have a plan and know how to get there. They also highlight big (and small) successes or progress along the way. This reminds employees that the plan is working and helps build confidence in their strategic direction.”

Lead and support change

Gallup’s researchers say that, when employees have little trust in leadership, the breakdown is often at manager level. Therefore, leaders must provide their managers with adequate training and development pathways in order to navigate change. 

For example’s sake, it is highlighted that 57% of hybrid managers were not trained in how to adjust to a new way of working at the start of the pandemic. When managers actively support change, employees are 11 times more likely to believe their leaders provide a clear vision of how today’s changes will affect their organisation.

McLain and Pendell add: “As leaders seek to build trust, they must first give their managers the tools to communicate: Articulate the vision, explain the why, answer questions and help their people believe in the change.

“This intentional communication will build trust and confidence throughout the organisation.”

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