Notes for Psychological Containment: A Critical Leadership Success Factor

Steven F. Freeman
Knowledge + Leadership
3 min readJul 27, 2020

Author Contact information:

Thanks to:

Steve Axelrod, Marc Sokol, Irene Freeman, Dominick Volini, and Harrison Adler for helpful comments on drafts of this article, and Harrison Adler for also providing editing help.


[1] See especially:

  • Bion, W.R. (1962). Learning from Experience, London: William Heinemann. [Reprinted London: Karnac Books,].
  • Bion, W.R. (1963). Elements of Psycho-Analysis, London: William Heinemann. [Reprinted London: Karnac].

Both reprinted in Bion, W.R. (1977). Seven Servants. New York: Jason Aronson Inc.

[2] Edvard Munch, 1893, German title: Der Schrei der Natur (The Scream of Nature), Norwegian title: Skrik (Shriek). Per Wikipedia: “The agonised face in the painting has become one of the most iconic images of art, seen as symbolising the anxiety of the human condition.”

Munch painted four “Screams.” The 1895 below, pastel on cardboard, was sold for nearly US$120 million at Sotheby’s in 2012, and is in the private collection of Leon Black.

[3] It can be difficult at times to tease out TFBs that are a function of the work itself vs those created by organizational dysfunction, for example ethical concerns about being asked to do things distinctly not in the clients’ or public interest; or dissonance from working for an overly zealous mission or leader.

[4] The past half-century has seen declines in job security, unins, guilds and professional organizations, increased global competition, off-shoring, the need for two family incomes, longer commutes, the need for ever-increasing continuing education and retraining, and the growing threat of en masse replacement by artificial intelligence.

[5] What’s lost in the absence of Face-To-Face (f-t-f) meetings?

  • Trust: “Handshaking promotes cooperative dealmaking.” (Schroeder, et al 2014).
  • Communication: You Pick Up Hidden, Silent messages. (Mehrabian 1971)
  • Energy: F-t-f meetings provide emotional contagion: e.g., helps others get excited about what you’re excited about. (Rizzolatti and Craighero, 2004)
  • Attention: (Duffy and McEuen,2010).
  • Good will: After f-t-f meetings you like the people you’re working with more. A consequence of distributed work: …the lonely office (Rockmann and Pratt, 2015)

[6] Sessa, Valerie I., R. B. Kaiser, Jodi K. Taylor, and Richard J. Campbell. “Executive selection.” Greensboro, NC: Center for Creative Leadership 8 (1998).

[7] See Schein, Edgar H. Process consultation revisited: Building the helping relationship. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1999.

[8] For more on psychological safety, see the work of Amy Edmondson, the Harvard Scholar who developed the concept, e.g.:

  • 1999. Psychological Safety and Learning Behaviour in Work Teams. Administrative Science Quarterly, 44 (2): 350–383
  • 2002. Managing the risk of learning: psychological safety in work teams. In M. West (ed.). International Handbook of Organizational Teamwork. London: Blackwell
  • 2003. Why hospitals don’t learn from failures: organisational and psychological dynamics that inhibit system change. California Review of Management, 45 (2): 55–72 (with A.L. Tucker)
  • 2004. Psychological Safety, Trust and Learning in Organizations: A Group-level Lens. In R. M. Kramer & K. S. Cook (eds.). Trust and Distrust in Organizations: Dilemmas and Approaches. Russell Sage

The seminal work on emotional intelligence is Daniel Goleman’s 2006 book with that title, Emotional intelligence (Bantam)

Additional Reading

Supporting Mental Health of Employees During and Beyond COVID-19



Steven F. Freeman
Knowledge + Leadership

Expertise: crisis preparedness, resiliency, innovation, research methods & applications. Faculty Jefferson, UPenn+. PhD MIT. Advising industry, govnt, orgs, YOU