Corporate America’s bold and swift response to North Carolina and Georgia’s new laws limiting legal protections for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community has been remarkable. The fact that executives at top companies have been publicly vocal about a societal issue signals a seismic shift in the role business leaders are hoping to play over public policy. They are looking to be agents of change, a trend that suggests the emergence of a new model of CEO leadership.
This comes at a time when most people have a hard time trusting today’s executives, according to the Edelman TRUST BAROMETER, which surveyed 33,000 people in 28 countries between October and November in 2015.
Although trust in CEOs rose over the past year (to a global average of 49 percent), the general population trusts business as an institution more than it trusts its leaders, the Trust Barometer showed. A majority of respondents view business as the institution most capable of keeping pace with the changing demands of the global economy (compared to government, NGOs and media). Yet more than half surveyed do not trust CEOs to do what is right.
To understand why, it’s helpful to trace how the public persona of the CEO role has changed over the past few decades and how, as the survey suggests, it is entering a new era.
Matthew Harrington is Edelman’s global chief operating officer.