19 Top Thought Leaders on the Topic of Trust

Image of Nader Abou Mrad
Nader Abou Mrad
Published: Aug 12, 2022

As trust in institutions like government, the media and even NGOs continues to plummet, commentators have fretted about the trust deficit in American society and how to overcome it.

Trust Signals editor Scott Baradell doesn't agree with the term "deficit," though. As he puts it:

I am not a fan of the term because “deficit” means deficiency in amount. I would argue that most of us do not have a deficit of trust in our daily lives. We have, instead, a displacement of trust.

We still have trust to give. But we have been forced to reconsider where to invest that trust, and who is worthy of it.

Scott argues that we must find places to put our trust in our everyday lives—and we seek out trust signals to find those places. 

As an example of displacement of trust, the decline in trust in government has led to a shift toward greater trust in business—which the global PR firm Edelman and others have argued is an opportunity for CEOs to take a greater role in American public life.

Edelman CEO Richard Edelman—the man behind the Edelman Trust Barometer and Edelman Trust Institute—has emerged as one of America's top thought leaders on the topic of trust. Here is a list that includes Richard and other experts who have valuable perspectives to offer on trust in 2022.

1. Alex Edmans

Alex EdmansAlex Edmans is a professor of finance at London Business School and, since 2017, he has been the managing editor of the Review of Finance – the leading academic finance journal in Europe. He earned his Ph.D. from MIT Sloan School of Management, taught at Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and became a full professor of finance at London Business School. In short, Alex is an academic among academics, with research that has been cited over 12,000 times in fields that combine trust and business like corporate governance, executive pay, and responsible business.

Aside from business academia, he’s been acclaimed for the practical advice he gives on finding trustworthy evidence – and navigating life accordingly – in social media, politics, and beyond. His bestseller, Grow The Pie, delves deep and richly into all these topics.

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2. Charles Feltman

Charles Feltman

Charles Feltman is an executive coach, consultant and facilitator who coaches executives and managers in developing the “thinking, being, and doing that constitute the most effective leadership in their organizations.” 

The cornerstone of his work and 25 years of professional experience? Trust. In his acclaimed book, The Thin Book of Trust: An Essential Primer For Building Trust at Work, Charles offers today’s managers a very reassuring proposition: “trust is a competency.” It is “a set of skills that can be learned, improved and practiced.”

It’s often tempting to think that being trustworthy – and even more so the ability to build a trusting atmosphere – comes naturally. People who are born with it are lucky, others are not. Charles argues that that’s not the case, and lays out a well-crafted practical framework for integrating trust into your business.

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3. Charles Hazlewood

Charles Hazlewood

When you think of trust experts, a music conductor doesn’t usually come to mind.

Charles Hazlewood is a British international conductor, music director of film and theatre, composer and curator of music who won the European Broadcasting Union conducting competition in 1995 while he was still in his 20s. 

Why is he on this list? Because like all the others on this list, Charles has a deep understanding of trust and its value in any domain. 

In a TEDGlobal talk, Charles spoke about the importance of trust in musical leadership, and how trusting the musicians in his ensemble allows him to add “a youthful energy and modern twists to centuries-old masterworks” of classical music. 

It’s inspiring how his view of the relationship between a conductor and his orchestra can – and definitely should – be mapped onto the relationship between a manager and his employees. To quote his opening sentence “…my job depends on [trust]. There has to be, between me and the orchestra, an unshakable bond of trust… through which we can spin a musical narrative which we all believe in.” 

Now imagine that line of thinking being adopted in the workplace as an essential part of business ethics: encouraging innovation through trust. The possibilities are endless.

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4. Clare Payne

Clare Payne

Clare Payne advises businesses and leaders on ethics, good governance and trust.

She is the EY Fellow for Trust and Ethics, and she’s the author of A Matter of Trust – The Practice of Ethics in Finance, a book that explores ethics in finance and offers practical guidance for making ethical everyday business decisions.

She’s also led the establishment of The Banking and Finance Oath (The BFO), a Hippocratic oath for those working in banking and finance.

Additionally, she’s co-authored TrustTime, a publication on ethics and trust which focuses on business and the role of the individual. On a personal note, she’s also an accomplished marathon swimmer. She swam around New York City (46 kilometers)!

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5. David Horsager

David HorsagerDavid Horsager is CEO of Trust Edge Leadership Institute, inventor of the Enterprise Trust Index, and director of one of the nation's foremost trust studies: the Trust Outlook.

If that doesn’t sound credible enough, he’s also authored two bestsellers on trust: The Trust Edge: How Top Leaders Gain Faster Results, Deeper Relationships, and a Stronger Bottom Line and Trusted Leader: 8 Pillars That Drive Results. 

As evident from his book’s titles, David draws from his experience across several domains as a business strategist to write and speak about the bottom-line impact of trust as well as the general principles (“pillars”) which underlie its successful cultivation.

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6. Erica Dhawan

Erica Dhawan

Erica Dhawan is a thought leader on communication and is the founder and CEO of Cotential, a global consultancy that “helps organizations accelerate the connectedness of their people, customers, clients and other stakeholders to prepare for the workplace of tomorrow.” 

In short, she specializes in building and fostering trust in the workplace in a digital world. To that end, she’s authored Digital Body Language: How to Build Trust and Connection, No Matter the Distance. We constantly find that this area of communication is overlooked, so Erica is seriously filling in a big gap. 

Trust is not built in a day, it takes time, and the daily habits of employees in a workplace are primary drivers of long-term trust in the business. It might seem cliché, but it’s true: it’s the little things that matter. Emails, video chats, and text messages matter more than what they’re given credit for.

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7. Holly Ransom

Holly RansomHolly Ransom deeply understands that trust is key to high performance. She is a speaker on leadership and change management, and she firmly asserts that many of the ingredients which are used to make a high-performing team, such as "dependability, structure and clarity, meaning and impact," are all rendered useless without trust.

To her, trust is “psychological safety”—without which it would be difficult to create diverse work environments.

She has authored The Leading Edge: Dream Big, Spark Change and Become the Leader the World Needs You to Be, a book on modern leadership that emphasizes the importance of trust – and mistrust – from politics to business, and draws on Holly’s interviews with Susan Cain, Condoleezza Rice, Barack Obama, and Malcolm Gladwell.

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8. Joel Peterson

Joel PetersonThe chairman of JetBlue and a consulting professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, few are as well versed in the field of trust as Joel Peterson.

Author of The 10 Laws of Trust: Building the Bonds That Make a Business Great, Joel looks into the transformative impact trust can have on businesses that invest in it (like John Deere, which grew from a tiny company to a worldwide leader) as well as the destructive impact that the lack of trust can have on businesses which neglect it (Enron). 

Joel discusses the dynamics of rivalry in the workplace and how employees who are freed from it can massively increase their productivity and innovative contributions – things that are essential to any business looking to scale, and any new business looking to get an edge over competitors. 

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9. Lea Brovedani

Lea BrovedaniOften referred to as “The Trust Architect” - and for good reason. Lea Brovedani is an energetic speaker, trainer, and coach with expertise in emotional intelligence, sales, leadership, and customer service. 

She’s authored two books on trust: the first is a business fable (Trusted: Secret Lessons from an Inspired Leader) with a fair bit of humor and a whole lot of insight, and the second is a more pragmatic piece (TRUST ME: Restore Belief & Confidence in an Uncertain World) which she uses to lay out her approach to proactively building trust professionally and personally: “The Five Tenets of Trust”.

A fun fact: Lea isn’t afraid of some risky activities, like cuba diving with sharks, bungee jumping, and sky diving. If you’d ask her if she has a death wish, her answer is clear:

“I don’t… I have a life wish.”

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10. Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell

Famous for authoring the #1 New York Times bestsellers The Tipping Point, Blink and Outliers, Gladwell’s research also reaches into the field of trust.

In his book Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About The People We Don’t Know, he dives deep into the nature of trust and how it’s factored into human relations, with insights from history, biology, and psychology.

Although not a business book per se, the knowledge in the book can easily be mapped to business topics such as reputation management, team leadership, and client attraction.

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11. Natalie Doyle Oldfield

Natalie Doyle OldfieldNatalie Doyle Oldfield has been named a Top Trust Thought Leader by Trust Across America – not once nor twice, but five times. For this, she received a lifetime achievement award from Trust Across America in 2021.  She is the author of The Power of Trust: How Top Companies Build, Manage and Protect It

In the book, Natalie asserts that trust is both measurable and manageable, and she offers a practical guide to “building and protecting trust, and making it part of the balance sheet of every organization.” This book was designed to help everyone in business – from CEOs to front-line employees, and she builds it on top of carefully selected research and case studies on influential individuals and top companies that have built, lost, and regained trust.

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12. Pete Buttigieg

Pete ButtigiegYou don’t get to become the United States secretary of anything without knowing a thing or two about trust. Peter Buttigieg is an American politician and former military officer who is currently serving as the United States Secretary of Transportation. A member of the Democratic Party, he was the 32nd mayor of South Bend, Indiana, from 2012 to 2020.

His experience in politics has taught him valuable lessons – lessons which he’s distilled in his book: Trust, America’s Best Chance. The book revolves around a very big assumption that many wholeheartedly believe in. 

Far from viewing trust merely as a facilitator of individual and team success (which it is) or as a driver of brand growth and revenue (which it definitely also is), Pete asserts that “Trust is essential to the foundation of America’s democracy.” Drawing on history and political philosophy, he explores the strong relationship between measures of prosperity and levels of social trust.

Although the book does not focus primarily on business, it highlights the importance of trust itself and how it affects our daily lives and the larger social context.

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13. Rachel Botsman

Rachel Botsman

“Trust is a confident relationship with the unknown.” - Rachel Botsman

In her critically acclaimed book, Who Can You Trust?: How Technology Brought Us Together and Why It Might Drive Us Apart, Rachel makes an astute observation: “we might have lost faith in institutions and leaders, but millions of people rent their homes to total strangers, exchange digital currencies, or find themselves trusting a bot.” She calls this phenomenon “distributed trust”, and she talks extensively about how to navigate trust in this new digital age – her primary area of expertise.

Additionally, Botsman has created Oxford University’s first course on trust in the digital world at the Saïd Business School. 

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14. Richard Edelman

Richard Edelman

Richard Edelman is the CEO of Edelman, a global communications firm founded by his father in 1952. Richard has extensive experience in marketing and reputation management at the highest levels of business, and he’s advised senior executives at Samsung, Starbucks, United Airlines and many of the world's other top corporations.

One of his most notable achievements in the area of trust is his creation of the Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual global study on trust that is regularly cited in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Forbes, and other media.

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15. Sandra J. Sucher

Sandra Sucher

An academic at heart, Sandra Sucher is a world-renowned expert and scholar with an extensive research background in trust. She is a professor of management at Harvard Business School, and she’s authored The Power of Trust: How Companies Build It, Lose It, Regain It – a book based on two decades of research in business trust. However, before joining Harvard, she worked as a business executive for 20 years, which is apparent in her writing because she builds her research on a practical foundation of real-world experience. She also collaborates with Deloitte on TrustIQ and with PwC on their Trust Leadership Institute.   

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16. Shalene Gupta

Shalene GuptaWhen we talk about Sandra Sucher, we have to talk about Shalene Gupta as well. She’s the co-author of The Power of Trust: How Companies Build It, Lose It, Regain It.

The Power of Trust was nominated for a Thinkers50 Breakthrough Idea award. Shalene Gupta was identified as a thinker to watch out for and made the Thinkers50 Radar List.

She's a former research associate at Harvard Business School, and she previously worked as a reporter at Fortune. With her work on trust, she definitely deserves a spot on this trust experts list.

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17. Scott Baradell 

Scott BaradellAs readers of this blog know, Scott is CEO and founder of Idea Grove, an agency that helps clients build and maintain trust with its “Grow with TRUST” system, editor of Trust Signals, and author of the upcoming book Trust Signals: Brand Building in a Post-Truth World.

Scott has written and talked about trust and PR extensively, and he’s helped businesses around the world improve their marketing, communications, and bottom lines.

 

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18. Stephen Covey

Stephen Covey

Author and public speaker Stephen Covey has written numerous bestsellers and is trusted by business leaders the world over for his insights.

Covey is an expert in trust, believes in its transformative power in the workplace and beyond, and demonstrates through a plethora of examples how to cultivate and maintain it. 

Should you take time out of your day to look into these insightful books? Covey has the answer: “You can ignore the principles that govern trust—but they will not ignore you.” You see, for Covey, trust is not just a beneficial asset worth investing in; it “is the new currency of our interdependent, collaborative world.”

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19. Tiana Epps-Johnson

Tiana Epps-JohnsonLast but definitely not least comes Tiana Epps-Johnson. She is the founder of the Center For Tech And Civic Life (CTCL), a non-partisan and non-profit organization whose main focus is to “harness the promise of technology to modernize the American voting experience.” A key objective underlying her work and that of CTCL goes far beyond making voting accessible and efficient for its own sake: they want to restore American citizens’ trust in their democracy.

What really sets Tiana Epps-Johnson apart from others working on improving public trust in politics, besides her honesty, is her hands-on, bottom-up approach to solving real problems efficiently. Even seemingly simple things like providing websites where counties can post official guidance on election requirements and procedures have proven to be very effective.

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Final Thoughts

This list demonstrates the potency of trust and just how valuable it can be in many diverse fields. Musicians, politicians, and C-suite executives who get it right end up performing masterpieces, leading their peers, and excelling in their domains. If you want to take your business to the next level, you should definitely tap into their knowledge and expertise. 

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