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Why False Narratives by CEOs Are Causing a Collapse in Trust Martin Winterkorn. Elizabeth Holmes. And now Samuel Bankman-Fried. It's easier than ever for CEOs to hide nefarious activities that would otherwise cause consumers to stop purchasing their products or services. Here's how they get away with it.

By Jon Michail Edited by Micah Zimmerman

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

It's not all that shocking that with the rise of social media and big data, CEOs can hide many activities that would otherwise cause consumers to stop purchasing their products or services. What is shocking is just how many CEOs have been lying or deceiving the public and shareholders about the health of their companies.

An HBR study showed that over one-third of executives believe CEOs should be held legally responsible for being dishonest or misleading regarding topics like sustainability and ethical business practices, but this still doesn't stop them from doing it.

The collapses are based on throwing out age-old wisdom to fleece millions with new-age Ponzi schemes.

Related: The Future of Work: 4 Ways Companies Can Evolve to Usher in the Future of the Workplace

What is a false narrative?

A false narrative is when CEOs and executives of a company create and propagate a story to their stakeholders and the public that misrepresents the actual situation of the business. This can be done in different ways, including making false claims about the company's profitability and success, hyping up faulty prospects of future growth, and more.

Unfortunately, this false narrative often results in people investing their hard-earned money into companies with inflated expectations, only to find out too late that the company executives have deliberately misled these expectations.

In addition, a false narrative is often used to justify irresponsible spending and excessive bonuses for top executives. This practice has become too common recently, with many high-profile corporate scandals coming to light.

It's estimated that billions of dollars have been lost by investors who have fallen prey to the false narrative spun by CEOs, leading to a massive collapse in trust in companies.

Ultimately, a false narrative from companies can be highly damaging and should be guarded against at all costs. Companies need to take responsibility for their actions and ensure they only share accurate information with their stakeholders and the public.

When companies fail to do this, they risk damaging not just their reputation but also the trust of their customers, which can be challenging to regain.

How does this false narrative cause a collapse in trust?

The false narrative being spread by CEOs of companies and, at times, promoted by large media institutions is leading to a collapse in trust among their consumers, shareholders and the public. It's no secret that the actions of a company's top executive can have an enormous impact on how their organization is perceived.

When a CEO makes bold statements not backed up by reality or presents a false story about the company's performance or direction, it can lead to a crisis of trust between the company and its stakeholders.

When a CEO pushes a false narrative, it can create serious doubts about the integrity of their promises or statements. This can be seen in recent examples from corporate America, such as Volkswagen's CEO Martin Winterkorn, who resigned after admitting to having lied about the company's emissions scandal.

This is just one case of how the false narrative of a CEO can create mistrust in the company they represent.

Related: Why Everyone and Everything on Social Media Is Fake

What are some examples of a false narrative?

In recent years, the world has seen several high-profile cases of false narratives being peddled by CEOs. One of the most well-known examples is Elizabeth Holmes and her now-defunct health technology startup, Theranos.

She sold a story to the public about revolutionary new blood tests and technology that would revolutionize the healthcare industry. In reality, the company was based on inaccurate and false statements about its products and services.

Related: What the Theranos Story Teaches Us About the Dark Side of Personal Branding

Another example of a CEO peddling false narratives is Adam Neumann, CEO of WeWork, before his ouster in 2019. His narrative was that WeWork was an innovative tech startup and a revolutionary business model when it was built on a shaky foundation of inflated valuations and poor management decisions.

Finally, there's Samuel Bankman-Fried, the founder of FTX, a cryptocurrency derivatives trading platform. Despite the revolutionary nature of cryptocurrency and blockchain technology, Bankman-Fried painted a misleading picture of how FTX worked by claiming that its underlying technology was more secure and reliable than traditional financial services. In reality, this wasn't the case.

These cases highlight how important it is for investors and customers to vet any company and CEO before investing or signing up for services. By doing due diligence, you can avoid becoming victims of false narratives peddled by unscrupulous CEOs.

What can be done to prevent the false narrative from continuing?

First and foremost, it's essential to ensure that CEOs remain accountable and transparent with their statements. They should also be encouraged to make decisions based on facts rather than speculation or hype.

Additionally, CEOs should focus on building relationships with stakeholders through open and honest communication, as this will help create trust between the company and its stakeholders.

Furthermore, companies should encourage a culture of questioning and critical thinking within the organization. Ensuring that employees are questioning the decisions being made and challenging the status quo will ensure that decisions are made based on sound judgment and that any potential false narratives will be uncovered quickly.

Finally, companies should ensure that their employees are regularly trained in ethics, so they understand the importance of ethical behavior when making decisions. This can extend toward ensuring that any false narratives are quickly identified and addressed.

By implementing these steps, companies can help build a more trustworthy relationship with their stakeholders and eliminate false narratives before they impact the organization.

Related: The Importance Of Honesty And Integrity In Business


The false narrative by CEOs has been causing a collapse in trust in companies, resulting in a lack of confidence from both the public and shareholders.

With the reputation of businesses taking a hit, CEOs need to realize that honesty and transparency are crucial to sustaining trust. Only by communicating openly and accurately can leaders hope to rebuild the trust necessary for any successful company.

Taking responsibility for their words and actions will go a long way in reinstating trust in companies and the people who run them.

Jon Michail

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Founder and Group CEO of Image Group International

Jon Michail is the CEO and founder of Image Group International, an Australia-based corporate and personal-brand image advisory and coaching organization that conducts transformational seminars, workshops and one-on-one coaching in over four continents.

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