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Paiwei Wei/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Trust is the new black.

That's the catchphrase of Sheryl Connelly, Ford's manager of global consumer trends and futuring, and the top trend she highlights in her latest report for her company's executives.

Truth and trustworthiness are increasingly required for any business in dealing with its constituencies. But, of course, that is occurring as the definition of "truth" seems to be changing, which the recent U.S. election highlighted.

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The report notes the perception of truth has shifted dramatically, especially in the past year. It used to be that facts were facts. But it seems that what people believe to be the truth is a factor of their perception.

"Today, decoding integrity is increasingly a matter of perspective – is the glass half full, or half empty? Both are accurate, but opinion is inherently subjective. Where truth was once indisputable and often self-evident, today's 'truths' are often heavily influenced by perceptions and reinforced by like-minded viewpoints," she writes in the report.

Senior executives therefore have to be very careful. Given the number of companies – from Wells Fargo to Samsung – that faced public relations fiascos this year, consultant Melissa Agnes says on Forbes that they need to follow these five steps:

Admit they are not immune to crises: The smartest organizations realize it can happen to them. They make sure they are fully prepared to successfully manage whatever crisis comes their way.

Identify high-risk scenarios: Every organization has a number of areas in which they are vulnerable. The executive team needs to delineate those situations to prepare.

Develop a practical crisis management model: You need a strong team to handle any problem, with roles and responsibilities understood.

"A strong governance model mirrors the organization's governance structure, has clearly defined roles and responsibilities for each member of the crisis management team, and includes internal escalation protocols that ensure prompt escalation when time is of the essence (as well as the avoidance of wrongful escalation)," Ms. Agnes writes.

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Prevent the preventable and prepare for the unpreventable: It's not enough, of course, to just identify the threats. As well, you need to be proactive, identifying gaps and vulnerabilities so that you might prevent the preventable risks. In addition, you plan and prepare for the unpreventable with a crisis preparedness program.

Commit to conducting regular exercises and drills: You can't expect your preparations to be as effective as you want if you leave it until an incident arises before testing your response. Instead, conduct regular, realistic training, with simulations. "Strong leaders who lead their teams to crisis management success understand that practice makes perfect," she says.

With trust the new black, you will face serious challenges if a crisis occurs. It makes sense to prevent crises from happening where possible, by identifying and acting to forestall them, and have plans in place should your company stumble into a moment in the public spotlight.

2. Leadership development trends to watch

A global survey of 700 leaders globally gave the Forum consultancy some fodder a few years ago to highlight seven leadership development trends we need to be alert to. Those trends, of course, continue in 2017:

Complexity is the new normal: Change initiatives abound. Uncertainty is high. What to do? Develop your agility, judgment and professional intelligence.

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The talent shortage is intensifying: Expect a shortage of management talent for some time. "Don't expect to be able to hire fully capable managers from outside. Instead: Grow your own. Hire promising talent early and invest in their training and retention. Look for emerging leaders and, again, invest in them," Forum advises.

Invest more in front line leaders: Fred Hassan, managing director of Warburg Pincus, has noted in Harvard Business Review that those "first-line leaders make up 50 to 60 per cent of management on average and directly supervise 80 per cent of the workforce. They are central players in a company's business strategy." To keep up with competitors, you need to invest at least one-third of your total leadership development budget in those front-line leaders.

Four leadership skills predominate: You need to think like a leader, coach your team, get results through others, and engage people, according to the Forum research. Ensure all your leaders, and especially first-line leaders, are trained in those four critical practices.

Employee engagement is a growing concern: An engaged workforce is a big market advantage but also rare. Forum found 20 per cent of employees are actively disengaged, 65 per cent somewhat engaged, and only 15 per cent highly engaged. This won't be easy to change, but you start by educating your leaders about the critical importance of employee engagement and how to appealto the core needs of your staff.

Leadership is becoming more collective and less individual: Increasingly we're learning that modern innovation, change, new directions, and strategies emerge not from individuals but from social networks. That will require you to develop multi-level leadership development systems. "Be intentional about bringing together leaders from different business units, functions, and geographies for training and development opportunities," Forum says.

Boot camp training is over: In order to justify the time and cost of training, many organizations have been emphasizing a "nose to the grindstone" approach in learning programs. But multiple studies show employees working harder than ever, getting less downtime, and feeling a greater sense of information overload.

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Forum argues you need to give learners a break. Include chances for team bonding and laughter, quiet time and reflection, free-wheeling discussions with colleagues, and a bit of surprise and adventure.

3. Disruptive trends to guard against (or take advantage of)

Social media analyst Brian Solis recently outlined 26 disruptive trends for the remainder of the decade. Topping the list:

The New Brand: Experiences are now more important than products. That means companies will have to consider how products and services enhance specific lifestyles and workflows.

Goodbye sharing economy: Online sharing was supposed to change everything, but do you still have your own car and bike? Instead, the "selfish economy" will predominate, and so everything will be wanted on-demand, immediately, not just by individuals but in business-to-business transactions.

Digital detox: People will learn tricks to handle the digital onslaught because they have to. Some will unplug from the Internet. But other actions Mr. Solis suggests are checking e-mail only once a week; scheduling meetings in 20 to 25 minute increments; listening to music without lyrics; spending 10 minutes a day on the Headspace meditative app; fasting from media; and, horrors, not responding to every text.

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4. Quick hits

– Sharpen your focus for 2017. Canadian blogger Bruce Harpham says less is more and recommends limiting yourself to 7 to 10 annual goals, making you more likely to achieve them.

Basketball fan and consultant Kevin Eikenberry suggests making a list of goals, intentions or targets and then narrowing it down to your "final four," encapsulating them in short statements, to launch your championship year.

– Marketing consultant Drew McLellan echoes that advice by suggesting you narrow your scope and go deeper in your marketing plan this coming year. Specialize, rather than being a generalist. It's easier to market yourself with that approach since people better understand what you offer. Your superior performance – because you're good at it – will deliver a superior customer experience, allowing you to charge more.

– Consultant Alex Goldfayn recommends asking your top five customers to list three people they work with or know who you should sell to.

– Mark Douglas, CEO of marketing and advertising company SteelHouse, will make sure his employees have a three-day vacation every month in 2017, adding extra days off in the months that lack a statutory long weekend. He calls them SteelHouse Days, and feels the respites are important for having a productive staff.

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– Consultant Susan Mazza shares this timely advice from author James Patterson: "Imagine life is a game in which you are juggling five balls. They are called work, family, health, friends and integrity. And you're keeping them all in the air. But one day you finally come to understand that the work ball is made of rubber – if you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls are made of glass."

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. E-mail Harvey Schachter

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