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Psychological Safety and role of Leaders

Psychological Safety

Beneath the needs and wants of a leader lies the needs and wants of the people 

When talking to leaders, undoubtedly the most recurrent words I hear most often are productivity, performance, goal achievement, innovation, and agility. But what lies behind these words in today’s world?

What are the pillars on which a healthy workplace stands?

How do leaders support organizational growth and improve the bottom line?

Are leaders really tuned in to getting to the outcome and are they aligned with what it entails?

What are the main ingredients to get there?

Research has shown that great performance and productivity are strictly linked to building trusting teams and we build trust within an organization by creating a psychologically safe environment. Therefore, it has become a must to care about the well-being of the team and learn to keep an eye on interpersonal skills. In this blog, I am going to focus on psychological safety and its importance.

In other words, psychological safety, and trust, are “nice-to-have” or crucial components to face a rapidly changing world where the uncertain and unknown are the new normal?

What is PSYCHOLOGICAL SAFETY?

Amy Edmondson, Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School, defines psychological safety as “a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes, and that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.”

Psychological safety stems from an interpersonal fear that hinders healthy interpersonal exchange. Where there is no psychological safety there is a toxic environment, and from here the slippery slope starts:

  • Lack of trust
  • Demotivation
  • Disengagement
  • Quiet quitting
  • And much more…

Creating and developing an environment where daring to be vulnerable, making mistakes, and speaking out without the fear to be judged, outcast, or humiliated is to lay the ground for an environment where everybody feels safe to contribute, where everybody feels they belong, where everybody can be themselves and that it is safe to be themselves,

WHY IS PSYCHOLOGICAL SAFETY IMPORTANT?

Organizations grapple to gain high-performance teams and also to become dynamic organizations where innovation, agility, and resilience are the norm.

The only way to set the ground for it is to create and develop an environment where dysfunctions and toxicity are not a daily concern. Therefore, the focus must be on creating and developing a healthy interpersonal climate where “fitting in”, “getting along” and “belonging” are the norm. In such a psychologically safe environment everybody is encouraged to be themselves, to contribute their true and best potential and nobody fears a backslash for being themselves.

A truly dynamic work environment requires teaming and learning in a world that has been defined as “new chaos”, (see blog: https://antonellalore.com/vuca-vs-bani/), a world of rapid changes where organizations need to respond rapidly to the uncertainty of the unknown of a future that is felt more as an imminent present.

HOW TO FOSTER A PSYCHOLOGICAL SAFETY ENVIRONMENT

 How many times have we heard how trust is fundamental to building high-performance teams and that it is not something that we can build overnight but entails a long process? Psychological safety, like trust, does not happen only because we wish it but it really requires will, focus, a disciplined road map, and a plan to get it.

It is a long process and, like trust, it can be even harder to rebuild in the event that it is breached.

To boost psychological safety, leaders have to think in a different way from what they are used to and work on some of the crucial leadership attributes that psychological safety demands:

  • Self-awareness:
    • Leaders have to look inward to understand their own emotions, limiting beliefs, and fear to be able – only then will they understand others.
  • Empathy:
    • The ability to understand other people’s feelings and the willingness to put oneself in the shoes of others.
  • Vulnerability:
    • The courage to be human and know/admit your own limits.
  • Humility:
    • Certainly, the “I know it all” kind of leadership style is out of trend, and no longer inspires or conquers people’s trust. On the contrary, it has the “repel” effect.
  • Accessibility:
    • Becoming available and willing to listen whilst learning to be the last one talking.
  • Relatability:
    • Becoming more real as a leader makes you more relatable, more approachable, and more trusting.

LESS LINEAR AND MORE MULTIDIMENSIONAL

The real lifeblood of any organization today is teams and high-performance teams can ONLY exist in a psychologically safe environment.

Therefore, the focus of a leader in building and developing a psychologically safe environment is:

 1-demolish functional silos and instead leverage cross-functional collaboration. It is very important to build bridges across functions and leverage skills and resources horizontally rather than vertically.

2- Invest and be involved in DE&I activities and initiatives. Investing in DE&I initiatives is a good start but it can bring no value if leaders are not involved and become the very first agent of the initiative. I always say that a DE&I leader is not the role for a day (the day the initiative is launched). It does entail involvement, becoming not only the role model but also the ally that gives the leader the privilege to know firsthand the strength to tap into when assigning roles.

3-Regularly assess all those aspects of the cultures that make a great organization: integrity, engagement….. be proactive in assessing them, and strategize in case intervention is needed. Being reactive can be tremendously expensive and overwhelming for leaders, teams, and the entire organization.

4-Clear communication and expectations from the get-go are a must as we all know how expensive a lack of clarity, ambiguity, and silence is. Spread the value of trust as a mutual value: if you want trust, you need to give trust. Yes, Being an upstander is a great added value, very much appreciated in the company culture. Be the first to apply it!

5-Make out-of-the-box thinking a regular exercise for all. As in life, we build our experience more from our mistakes and failures than with our successes. In organizations, it is important to re-think the mistakes and reframe them as learning opportunities. In this way, we set the ground for everybody to talk and “think loud” even for the unpolished idea. Encouraging safety for anybody to contribute at any stage of the thinking process is fundamental. No idea, no thought is ever too crazy!

6-Accountability for psychological safety needs to be included in performance metrics. It becomes important to offer resources and training around topics of social and emotional intelligence and setting expectations for career development. Whatever metrics we decide to put in place will be taken into consideration for any evaluation. -What are my needs and wants and do I extend the same to others? – must become the new mantra.

The new mantra for leadership is empathy, care, and inclusivity and to foster these values in an environment it is mandatory to support the team in a way they feel seen, heard, valued, and appreciated.

This high-speed modality world calls for human connections. If we don’t understand that this has become the priority to thrive, we set the boat to row upstream. Leaders need to comprehend the importance of embracing psychological safety, own it, and included it within a mandatory strategic priority.