The Leading Edge – Engendering Trust (Part I)

The first of Erik Erickson's eight stages of psychosocial development, is Trust vs. Mistrust. That is attained when a parent (primarily the mother) can leave a child without the child becoming anxious or enraged, because the child "trusts" that she will return.

This is critical to development because if you start out in life trusting the world, you feel safe, calm and optimistic and can remain focused on what you need to do. If you start out distrusting the world, you feel endangered, anxious and pessimistic and are easily distracted looking either for that dangerous thing to happen or for safety to come back.

What does psychosocial development have to do with the contemporary business world and leadership? In a word, PLENTY.

Given the unpredictability of the economy, the difficulty believing what leaders say, the increasing belief that rumors are true, more and more workers are feeling anxious, upset and having trouble sustaining a calm, steadfast focus.

What is a leader to do?

A leader needs to see clearly and articulate clearly a vision, that makes sense, feels right and is doable in the minds of their people. When all three are present, people not only trust, but they "buy in" and enthusiastically work towards achieving that vision. When any of them are lacking, people feel distrust and stop, if not pull back. Too often in business start ups (especially during the dotcom boom several years ago) we have watched companies recognizing an opportunity, but without a clear, articulatable vision to compel people to follow. Remember how it seemed that boom would never end and money was being thrown at anything that was Internet related.

Given the concern about ROI and numbers, and a need to curb the high flying and high spending habits of many CEO's, financial types have come in to try to keep things on tracks. But actuaries are not visionaries (think John Sculley vs. Steve Jobs).

"The Gift that Keeps on Giving" is a slogan which supposedly originated with regard to the phonograph and has been used by many companies, including Kodak. More apropos to our discussion is that "Vision is the Gift that Keeps on Leading" by enabling people to trust again. And if you haven't noticed, American workers are sorely in need of something that will allow them to trust once more.

Stay tuned for part two – Instilling Confidence

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