A new survey reveals that many employees feel their CEOs are not meeting leadership expectations in the current hyper-sensitive corporate environment. Employees increasingly expect their leaders to engage in the issues of the day and to take steps to solve those that affect their personal lives as well as society in general.

Looking back in recent history, notable tech executives such as GE’s Jack Welch, Cisco’s John Chambers and Microsoft’s Bill Gates not only excelled in pioneering and growing a profitable business but guided and made a lasting impact on their corporate, employee and community cultures. A new survey shows that by comparison, the current batch of executive leadership still has some work to do.

Edelman Trust Barometer 2019

The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer sampled 33,000-plus employees across 27 markets. The results point out significant gaps between what employees expect their leaders to deliver, and what kind of leadership they are actually getting.

Some key takeaways:

  • Taking Charge on Social Issues: 71% of employees agree that it’s critically important for their CEO to respond to challenging times, including industry issues, political events, national crises and employee-driven issues. Yet the study shows that among employees CEOs are underperforming in their societal leadership and in areas of ethics and character.
  • Credibility Gap: Less than half (47%) of respondents trust their CEO as a credible source of company information. By contrast, company technical experts (65%), academic expert (63%), and even regular employees (53%) have greater credibility than the CEO.
  • Opening Up: Part of the lack of credibility likely stems from the fact that workers do not really relate to their CEOs. A large majority of survey respondents said they would like to know more about their chief executive’s personal life, including values (79%), obstacles they have overcome to become successful (71%) and their success story (67%).

How to be a better CEO

All is not lost, however – the Edelman survey suggests several steps CEOs can take to address their shortcomings:

• Talk Normal: 56% of respondents want a leader who speaks like a regular person versus a highly educated person.
• Be Spontaneous: 63% of respondents said they would prefer a leader who speaks spontaneously over one who delivers well-rehearsed speeches (37%).
• Go Social: 63% of respondents think CEOs should communicate regularly and directly to the public using social media channels, up from 52% in the 2018 survey, up 11 points from the 2018 study.

There is some good news for CEOs. The Edelman survey shows that CEO shortcomings notwithstanding, people have shifted their trust to relationships within their control, including their employers. Approximately 75% of respondents said they trust their employers, and employees who trust their companies work harder and are more loyal.

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