This year we have discussed Trust from Dublin to Dubai and in 12 cities in between. We have engaged at the World Economic Forum on the impact of the Euro crisis on Trust and we have held countless conversations online. We shone a light on why EMEA is a region of distrusters and the tangible expressions of that distrust: the Arab spring; riots in London and protests in Moscow; the rejection of incumbent administrations by their electorate at the polls; the list is surely a long one. Trust clearly has a cause and effect. Throughout the countless Trust discussions which have taken place, a clear thought emerges: people are cynical–yet they want to Trust institutions that deserve to be trusted.
From the data and our many deliberations over the past month, it’s clear that there is a direct correlation between the paralysis of leadership across EMEA and the decline of Trust. Government is not trusted to provide the leadership the region craves. The failure to end the Euro crisis or even signal the beginning of the end is an enduring sore, producing a significant decline in trust in Government. As we hosted Trust events in Spain, Italy and France discussions amplified the data. The anger at the recent downgrades is real; the failure to lead generates cynicism and discontent. In EMEA, we now generally view governments as liars. Not a happy story. Yet perhaps there is a happy ending to this grim tale.
Encouragingly, as we take Trust from the podium into the boardroom there is an appetite to engage. Our message to the CEOs is clear: trust is not just about business core competencies. Yes, produce good products; yes innovate and generate profits; but do more. As business leaders you have an opportunity to lead. The bar is much higher now than pure operational performance. Trust comes from operations “plus”. A new level of societal engagement is required: helping the environment, partnering for good, treating employees fairly. The early response has been encouraging and there is certainly an intent to close the gap between delivery and expectations. Business perhaps can genuinely deliver values based leadership.
But there are no guarantees here and the year ahead will neither be pleasant or easy. However, values-based business leaders with the vision and the stamina to get the internal dynamics of their business right can become the new “political” leaders by engaging in the real issues of our society and delivering against the demands of an ever-democratising public.
Mark Cahalane is the European Corporate practice chair at Edelman.