Whether a leader has a team in one location or many, if team members are working in an office, on a site or from home, it is essential in every leader’s role to create a culture where people feel safe. Especially in these challenging times!
In his article Psychological Conditions of Personal Engagement and Disengagement at Work, Kahn describes Psychological safety as “A shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking. It can be defined as being able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career”.
So what does this mean?
In essence, it means in psychologically safe cultures, team members feel they can be themselves, be accepted and are respected – no matter what.
Leaders are the ones who set the culture of organisations and teams, influencing primarily through the way in which they lead. This includes the way they communicate, delegate, the standards they set, the actions they take (or not), recognition of good performance and the manner in which they hold people accountable for poor performance.
It also includes the way they show up every day through the energy they bring to each and every conversation and touchpoint.
In psychologically safe cultures people feel supported when they make an error and feel it’s ok to fail. They feel confident to speak up and own their mistakes. It is more favourable to be honest than to be perfect. In these cultures, people are also more likely to be solution-focused and want to be involved in determining ways to prevent the error happening again.
A good measure of this, as a leader, is to reflect on what your first reaction is when a team member approaches you with bad news? How do you feel? What’s your body language like? What do you say? Your immediate reaction and ongoing response to the bad news (error, mistake, mis-judgement, lapse) can create not only a safe culture, but a more empowered and learning-focused one.
Creating safe spaces is also all about trust and freedom. In day to day leadership this can look like making sure your team knows you trust them to do their work, that they have your support. That team members feel they are empowered to do all the elements of their roles in a way that aligns with their strengths and preferences.
The greatest success with implementing a safe culture is everyone knowing they are accountable and empowered. They have the clarity in what is expected from them and the freedom to deliver on those expectations. At the time of publishing, we are in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, therefore trusting our people and giving them the freedom to work in the best way they can is absolutely vital right now.
Psychologically unsafe spaces don’t just impact the team, but also the people they interact with – other teams, customers and their family. There is a ripple effect.
Tom Rath and Barry Conchie discuss the four needs of followers in their book Strengths-based leadership, What Followers Want From Leaders. As they say, “The “vision thing” pales in comparison to instilling trust, compassion, stability, and hope”. An ongoing focus on these by leaders builds a psychologically safe culture.
This is excerpt from a conversation in the Leaders Who Give a Damn podcast series with Becky Hammond from Isogo Strong. Becky is a maven in the Strengths world, who partners with organisations to build engaged cultures where people thrive. Becky also inspires couples and mums to look at life differently through a lens of strengths, focusing on what’s right and getting more flow back into their lives.
You can listen to this episode of the Inspired Energy podcast on your favourite platform.