I’ll Only Follow if I Trust You: Using Adult Development to Accelerate Trust


Leadership, Management & Business

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Book Chapter

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In this chapter we examine how the ways in which we make meaning, the perspectives we are able to take and our relationship to responsibility (Berger, 2012), impact the development of trust. Using two theories, constructive adult development (Kegan, 1994) and relational trust (Bryk & Schneider, 2004), we consider how the intentional application of one to the other can accelerate the work of adaptive leadership. Explained more fully below, adaptive leadership is a set of practices applied to address challenges that are complex in nature, to which there are no ready answers, and that require the engagement of stakeholders (Heifetz, Grashow, & Linskey, 2009). This is the type of work in which followership is voluntary and where trust is prerequisite to authentic engagement. We use Bryk and Schneider’s (2004) research on relational trust which, while conducted in the context of urban elementary education, has implications for leaders that generalize beyond education, especially when considered in combination with constructive adult development theory. We argue that the four key areas that constitute relational trust in schools – personal regard, credibility, integrity and respect – extend to leadership in general and, in fact, studies illustrate similar attributes of trust across sectors (Zhu, Newman, Miao, & Hook, 2013). Further, when coupled with adult development theory, Bryk and Schneider’s (2004) framing of trust suggests how one’s development stage should be a primary driver in the formation of relational trust. These intersections can impact the ways in which leaders engage others in complex, adaptive work.


Published as a chapter of Jonathan Reams. (2020). Maturing Leadership : How Adult Development Impacts Leadership. Emerald Publishing Limited.

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