Between rising interest rates, the tight labor market, and a lingering banking crisis, ­no one would blame your workforce —or you—for feeling more than a little apprehensive right now.

Indeed, a recent media survey of over 1,000 CFOs found that confidence in their executive leadership dropped 10% between early 2021 and the end of 2022. Experts say the issue is compounded by an overall loss of faith in a number of sectors like tech, government, and more recently, banking. Yet experts also say this can be a great opportunity for leaders to step in—and inspire. “Everything moves at the speed of trust. So what does it mean to lead in a low trust world?” asks Dennis Baltzley, Korn Ferry’s Global Head of Leadership Development Solutions. We looked for some answers.

Step 1: Build confidence in yourself—first

Baltzley asserts it’s most helpful if you are confident first before assuming others to be confident in you. And the three ingredients of self-confidence, he says, are calm, courage and empathy.

Calm is key because confidence starts with self-regulation. “Leaders who don't have emotional self-control create fear and uncertainty,” says Baltzley. Courage in today’s context is the willingness to persevere forward without the guarantee of success—a kind of agility that our research from the World’s Most Admired Companies ranks highly among leadership traits. Finally, empathy matters because it enables you to show people you care and understand a situation that may be stressful for them. A reported 61% of employees who claimed their leaders were empathetic said they were able to be innovative, versus 13% with less empathetic leaders.

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Step 2: Increase employee interaction

When your firm is facing headwinds, connecting more frequently with key employees is a must-do, says Lee Esler, Korn Ferry’s Board and CEO Practice Leader for Global Technology Markets. Companies with effective communications strategies are reportedly 3.5 times more likely to outperform their peers. Esler suggests in-person meetings where possible, or a phone call as the next best option. “Zoom leadership calls tend to be to a broader audience, so it's one-to-many. But the phone calls that are one-to-one sometimes have a bigger impact,” says Esler. Baltzley stresses that even though authentic communication may not be comfortable, you still have to do it. “The only thing faster than the speed of light is rumors, and people in silence will make things up. So tell the real informed story and give yourself a break,” advises Baltzley.

Step 3: Practice proactive leadership

When you're not sure about a situation, staying inactive often increases feelings of uncertainty in your direct reports, says Baltzley. “You make the best judgment you can so you have more data to make a better call later. So you decide, you accept feedback, you self-correct, you move forward. What you don't do is freeze or check out,” says Baltzey. Proactive leadership is a key component of employee engagement, which, according to a Gallup study, can lead to 21% greater profitability from highly engaged business units.

Esler asserts that one specific way to take action that also builds trust is to give your employees meaningful assignments to work on. “You're showing confidence in your people. Which gives them confidence in you,” says Esler.

If you’re a leader ready to develop the skills to address today’s challenges, or you’re looking to develop other leaders in your organization, learn more about our Leadership Development experiences or contact us today.