Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent appearance at the World Economic Forum predictably resulted in a range of commentary from policy wonks and political pundits. There were those who suggested the Prime Minister’s visit had re-established Canada as an international force, while others criticized the newly elected leader for his move to downplay Canada as a resource powerhouse.
Critical observers noted the ease with which Trudeau navigated the pleasantries of the global conference, rubbing elbows with other heads of state and global business leaders, charming them with youthful optimism and candor. Whatever one’s political stripes, Canada’s business leaders — many of whom were inexcusably absent from the conference — would be well-served to take a page out of Trudeau’s playbook.
The Canadian 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer data, released this morning, revealed trust in all of Canada’s institutions is on a sharp incline, driven primarily by the informed public – those who have a higher income, level of education, and media consumption habits, and thereby have been exposed to high doses of the new and media-savvy Prime Minister’s tactics in public engagement.
It’s of little coincidence the survey was conducted in the immediate aftermath of the federal election, the outcome of which has had a reverberating impact on Corporate Canada. Trust in CEOs was up eight points this year among the general population, the highest year-over-year gain for any type of spokesperson in Canada.
But business leaders aren’t out of the woods just yet. They still rank third-lowest in spokesperson credibility and continue to be seen as out of touch with the general population.
In fact, only 28 percent of the general population in Canada felt CEOs could relate to people like them, indicative of a growing chasm between the informed minority and mass majority with respect to CEOs’ likeability and relatability. Not surprisingly, 29 percent believe CEOs are not fairly paid relative to the workforce. But what was really eye-opening was the degree to which Canadians want to see business leaders as human. More than 80 per cent want to know about CEOs’ personal values, 60 percent want to know about the personal obstacles they’ve overcome and 53 percent want to know about their lifestyle choices.
As past Trust Barometer findings have revealed, they also want the business community to improve in a very direct and tangible way the fabric of society, beyond jobs and economic growth. That’s precisely why Trudeau’s willingness to be present at Davos and acknowledge the world’s social ailments — and Canada’s role in combatting them — resonated with so many Canadians. In addition, his willingness to be interviewed by CNN’s Fareed Zakaria (and others) exhibited a level of earnestness and candor that resonates highly with Canadians.
Political leaders will always be polarizing, and particularly so to Canada’s business community. However, those who can set aside policy and partisanship and study the behavioural traits of the new Prime Minister will realize his surge in likeability is directly tied to the very traits admired and valued by the increasingly influential mass population — transparency, accessibility, openness and a willingness to collaborate.
Doing so will go a long way in currying favor with the bulk of the population, which wants to trust its business leaders but is looking for reasons to do so that go beyond strong financial results.
Lisa Kimmel is president and CEO of Edelman Canada.