Your Most Important Job: Creating Safety

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We are wired as social beings, with a strong need to connect and belong. In every interaction with your employees, you are either creating a psychologically safe or psychologically harmful environment for them. In his book, Silos, Politics and Turf Wars: A Leadership Fable About Destroying the Barriers That Turn Colleagues Into Competitors, Patrick Lencioni describes the damage that results from an unsafe business environment:

Silos—and the turf wars they enable—devastate organizations. They waste resources, kill productivity, and jeopardize the achievement of goals. But beyond all that, they exact a considerable human toll too. They cause frustration, stress, and disillusionment by forcing employees to fight bloody, unwinnable battles with people who should be their teammates. There is perhaps no greater cause of professional anxiety and exasperation—not to mention turnover—than employees having to fight with people in their own organization. Understandably and inevitably, this bleeds over into their personal lives, affecting family and friends in profound ways.”

According to Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson, psychological safety is “a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject, or punish someone for speaking up” whether it is asking for help, information or feedback.

Simon Sinek in his book, Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, states that …in a Circle of Safety, stress declines, fulfillment rises, our want to serve others increases and our willingness to trust others to watch our backs skyrockets.”

How do you create safety?

  1. It is important to understand that as the leader, you hold position power. You have the power to directly impact the livelihood of your employees. You must make it safe for your employees to challenge you and to give you candid feedback. Share some examples of your own past bad ideas and decisions. Explain the dangers of future ones going unchallenged, then, frequently request feedback.
  1. Learn how to receive feedback. Candor is only valuable if the person on the receiving end is open to it and grateful to receive it. Never rebuke what is offered. Instead, restate what you heard and thank the giver for the feedback.
  1. Learn how to listen; really listen! Restrain yourself from reacting and responding before the other person acknowledges that you understand their position. Be curious about their perspective and ask open questions when you need clarification.

A safe environment reflects a shared sense of trust and mutual respect that comes from an emotional connection among team members. According to a research study published in Harvard Business Review, “Making sure that people feel safe on a deep level should be job #1 for leaders.” Is it yours?

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