CEO Credibility Crisis Claims are Overblown, Survey Suggests

Any number of polls in the past year have indicated that CEOs are suffering a credibility problem.

For instance, an Edelman survey released in January showed that CEO credibility had dropped 12 points globally this year to an all-time low of 37%. Soon after, a separate survey by Harris Poll found that 50% of Americans thought CEOs had a “bad reputation”, while just 25% thought they had a good one.

People don’t trust CEOs because they’re paid too much and are probably plotting to replace them with a robot or foreign worker, so the theory goes.

And while there may be an element of substance to those interpretations, a new Gallup poll of hundreds of U.S. company employees shows they should be drawn with caution.

“while there are negative stereotypes about CEOs, one is less likely to apply THEM to THEIR own CEO.”

It found that when people were questioned about the leadership of their own company, 45% said the morals of their CEO were excellent and 30% said they were good. Just 23% rated them as either fair or poor.

Meanwhile, both of the negative surveys previously asked people what they thought about CEOs more broadly.

“This could reflect the well-established pattern by which people are generally more negative when asked to rate things “out there” in the nation as a whole than when asked to rate the same things locally,” Gallup’s Ryan Pendell said.

The same thing happens, he said, when Gallup talks to people about Congress, crime, schools and the economy. “In the same way, it may be that while there are negative stereotypes about other CEOs, one is less likely to apply those stereotypes to one’s own company.”

Perhaps then, people would take a similarly rosy view of their own work colleagues. Well, not entirely.

Gallup’s survey found that employees rated the moral values of their co-workers at 35% excellent, 43% good and 20% either fair or poor—so CEOs scored much more highly in the excellent stakes, at 45%.

Workers were also more down on the country in general, with just 17% saying the nation’s moral values were excellent or good, 36% saying they were fair and 45% saying they were poor.

All great news for CEO then? Not entirely, either. CEOs aren’t always held in such high regard by their own staff on other measures. For instance, Gallup’s recent State of the American Workplace report found that only 22% of U.S. workers strongly agreed their leaders had a clear direction for the company. Just 13% thought their CEOs were great communicators.

“The bottom line is this: most American workers trust their CEO to do the right thing—they just aren’t sure their CEO knows where the company is going,” Pendell said.

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Ross Kelly
Ross Kelly is a London-based business journalist. He has been a staff correspondent or editor at The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo Finance and the Australian Associated Press.

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