Developing Trust through Connection


Appalachian Trail

Purpose is something we each find in different ways. It comes from inside ourselves. We connect with it when we trust ourselves, our skills, our ability to make decisions, to use what we know and build upon it as we do things, and the sense that we can communicate and connect with others.

Many people who look to the outdoors to find peace of mind. As a lifer long-distance runner, I do prefer getting outside to a treadmill — there is more space to let thoughts go, but we should be mindful of being present to that moment as well. Because sometimes we lose our footing.

That's what happened to me yesterday during a sprint, of all things — slipped on black ice and took an unanticipated flight. Thank heavens for the years of Karate-do, learning how to fall is critical to not breaking. Though I fell on a concrete sidewalk, I tumbled ball-like. But muscles strained, so I've been relying on strong biceps and quads and lots of stretching to even move around today.

What's interesting is that I was literally howling on the ground and three cars passed me before a mom with a couple of kids in the SUV stopped to help me get home. It would be easy to wonder why others didn't; but the focus should be on the one who did. It's a better use of energy to get into problem solving mode as quickly as possible when life bounces off us. “What if” mental games dissipate it and weaken us.

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The closest thing to the familiar Alps I can think of are The Appalachians. This is a system of mountains I can claim to have traversed only on car when driving up to Montreal through Vermont. But in my first job in the U.S. I met a group of young adults with varying degrees of brain-injury that were so fit as to be able to go through the Appalachian Trail with guides.

It's a 2,186-mile journey on foot. Those who undertake it, in addition to physical fitness typically negotiate with themselves at other levels, too. We typically undertake a challenge like this one as a way to reconnect with ourselves and we end up forging strong bonds with others as a group.

Wharton professor Mike Useem's Annual Leadership Trek to Mt. Everest was designed to help CEOs translate the concepts that define great leadership he taught in MBA classes — vision, being strategic, being decisive, being an effective communicator — into what they do. He is a history buff and prolific author, and has translated his lessons into compelling real life examples and stories.

“Leadership is an individual and team sport at the same time,” says Useem. He is a firm believer in taking people out of their comfort zone and putting them in settings where their decisions have a noticeable impact on the success or failure of an expedition.

For those curious about his teaching, Useem's The Leadership Moment: Nine True Stories of Triumph and Disaster and Their Lessons for Us All includes nine stories of real individuals who were faced with leadership challenges or put into positions where their decisions as leaders would greatly affect the outcome or survival of companies, countries and often, many other lives.

On a more personal level, the outdoors provide the backdrop of processing events and emotional healing. For Paul Stiffler, better known as Ponytail Paul, the Appalachian Trail and its thru-hikers have been the therapeutic force needed to turn his life around. Paul has taken on a role as “Trail Angel” to help thru-hikers on their journey and help himself find a new sense of purpose in the process.

Trail Angel from REI on Vimeo.

A far cry from those training programs showing people falling and colleagues catching them, developing trust is a process that starts with us.