Why we don’t trust our leaders any more?

Lessons in credibility and trust from The Edelman Trust Barometer 2015

One of the world’s largest and highly respected public relations firms, Edelman conducts an annual survey of online participants from 27 countries. This year 33,000 respondents took part, with more than 1,000 respondents from each of the countries. There is also an “Informed Public” section for each country. The details of the surveys is available here.

Key results:

Overall scores:

  • Trust has declined in NGOs, media and business
  • 17 out of 27 countries have scores lower than 50% (termed “Distruster by Edelman) as rated by general population
  • Only 5 countries have scores higher than 60% (UAE, India, China, Singapore, Indonesia)


  • 60% of countries distrust media
  • For the first time, Online Search Engines (64%) have a trust score higher than traditional media 62%
  • Search engines are also used more than any other source as the source for breaking news (31%) and to validate news (37%)
  • For millennials, social media gained 11 points and has a trust score of 59%
  • Millennials trust Search engines (72%) by a greater margin than traditional media (64%)


  • Friends and family (72%) and academic experts (70%) are trusted more than the CEOs (43%) and celebrities (34%)
  • Company Technical Experts are trusted at 67%
  • Employees of the company (49%) are trusted more than the CEO 43%
  • For developed countries, CEOs’ credibility score is even lower at 31%

Trust in global business, country of origin of the company matters:

  • Companies originating in BRIC countries are trusted lesser:
    • Brazil (38%), China -36%, Rssia – 35%, India – 34% or Mexico 31%
  • A company from developing country doing business in a developed market is highly distrusted 22%
  • On the other hand, a company from a developed country is trusted more in a developing country 77%

What’s next?

  • The study has also concluded that trust is essential for innovation
  • It has been seen that innovation is more due to technology change or business growth purpose than to
    • Improve people’s lives – 30%
    • Make the world a better place – 24%
  • The key reason trust in business has decreased is because of the perception that it fails to contribute to “greater good” (53% agree)

The study points out and Edelman’s CEO, Richard Edelman, explained in an interview to McKinsey Quarterly last year, there are two factors to increase CEO’s credibility. Both these factors were found to be “high priority” and “low on performance”:

  •  The first is integrity (business is seen as ethical, transparent, responsible, open)
  • The second is engagement (listens to customer, treats employees well, communicates frequently and honestly)

Richard Edelman calls integrity and engagement as “the new gold”. He cites Pepsico and its Indra Nooyi as a great example. He encourages CEOs to see their role as Chief Engagement Officer. The business performance and approval ratings of CEOs like Tony Hsieh bears testimony to this research.

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