Are you a safe leader? Part Two.
Before you go any further, read part one of this series to understand what psychological safety is and whether you’re a psychologically safe leader.
A safe leader is one who people trust, connect with and confide in. One who creates a team where people trust in each other.
Ask yourself if you feel included, safe to learn, safe to contribute, and safe to challenge the status quo. Then ask yourself if you’re creating an environment where others can do these things too.
How do you build psychological safety?
Trust is the foundation of our relationships. Without it, we will get nowhere. From a practical perspective, here are 8 ways to earn your teams’ trust and show them they are safe with you.
1. Show your people that you're engaged.
Be present. Actively listen. For the love of all things good, silence your phone/email notifications. There is nothing more disrespectful and off-putting than trying to talk to someone who keeps flicking their eyes at their device...right in front of you! If your team feel that you don’t pay attention when they speak, or that you don’t value their thoughts and opinions, they’ll shut down.
2. Build your self-awareness.
Share how you like to work best, what your communication preferences are, your expectations of them and how you like to be recognized. Ask these of your team and encourage them to share this with their own stakeholders. With this knowledge, you can adjust your emotional responses and learn to react in ways that invite open discussion.
3. Model the behaviours you want to see.
Set the stage for the team culture you want to create. Watch the language you use. People connect and remember what you say and how you say it – supportive or otherwise. Cognitive studies show that using positive/affirmative language can motivate and influence behaviour change. A simple word swap like “opportunity” instead of “challenge” can empower your team to speak up without fear. Remember. What you walk past, you condone. So, pull up any behaviour that doesn’t align with your teams/business values and reset expectations.
4. Include your team in the decision making process.
Asking for their thoughts and actively inviting questions will help them feel included, gain buy-in, and build a sense of ownership and accountability. Dig deeper and encourage conversation. Some may want or need time to give you a considered answer, so provide multiple avenues for feedback (face to face, email, slack etc). You’ll likely discover something you hadn’t considered. And once a decision is made, explain the reasoning behind it and how their feedback factored into the decision. Even if they disagree, they’ll appreciate the honesty and transparency.
5. Show that you value and appreciate new ideas.
If you want your team to openly share their thoughts, you have to create an environment where they feel that their ideas are welcome. Let go of judgement and hold on to curiosity. Try using an “I like, I like, I wonder” statement. For example: “I like the idea of integrating that system in to this process. And I like that you thought about how we could simplify the customer experience. I wonder how we could leverage our existing resources to achieve this”. You don’t need to act on every idea however; if they’re excited about it and it’s do-able from a cost/business perspective, you have more to lose by shutting it down than by enabling it. For the idea’s that don’t align or can’t be bought to life, thanking them, showing appreciation for their insights and explaining why, will go a long way in establishing psychological safety.
6. Be in their corner and have their back.
Champion, support and represent your team. Let them know you’re on their side by supporting their personal and professional development. Show interest in, and care for them as people, not just as employees. This can help them feel more comfortable speaking up because they know you appreciate their whole selves – not just their work selves.
7. Take your word seriously.
To build trust and psychological safety, your team need to trust your word. Be mindful about the information you share as well as the expectations and commitments you set. Be realistic. Be thoughtful. Be careful about what you promise. In fact, don’t promise anything! Plans change and timelines shift. Explaining what has changed, the reasons for that change and what it means for them will help your team jump on board and move through the change faster.
8. Consider how you respond to failure.
Don’t be that person who jumps on board and then punishes (e.g. silent treatment, withholding, passive aggression) experimentation and (reasonable) risk-taking when it “fails”. I write fail in inverted commas because there is always a lesson and/or a win. Create a process to learn from the experience like sharing knowledge in ‘retrospective’ review meetings, updating processes or rethinking the idea to go again with a different approach.
At the end of the day? It’s about giving a sh*t.
Be a good human. Show genuine curiosity and empathy. Let go of your ego, show compassionate and a willingness to listen to someone brave enough to say something that challenges the status quo.
Contribution, communication, performance and innovation will all improve as a result of creating a psychologically safe workplace. And employees who feel safe and engaged at work are less likely to quit.
Remember that transformation doesn’t come over night. Take the pressure off. Pick two or three things that resonate, focus on those and see how they impact your team. Make incremental changes and aim for 1% better than yesterday.