Leaders are struggling with a lot of workplace issues.
Ineffective communication. Low motivation, morale, and engagement. Slow change and growth. Poor performance. Concerns over mental health and well-being. Lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion (or it’s done, but with superficial results). Conflicts. Trust issues. Lack of creativity and innovation. Second-rate problem-solving. Stress. Leaving potential on the table.
The thread that ties all of these together? They’re all symptoms of a lack of psychological safety. In fact, even a lot of the issues we consider business problems are issues of a lack of psychological safety at their root.
Research tells us that psychological safety is the single most important factor behind high performing teams.
Research by McKinsey & Co shows that a climate conducive to psychological safety starts at the very top of an organization. Fostering psychological safety at scale begins with companies’ most senior leaders developing and embodying the leadership behaviors they want to see across the organization.
Leadership is hard precisely because it pulls on your emotional bandwidth: the weight of ongoing decision-making and problem-solving, the complexity of leading people, and the energy to remain calm and focused under pressure. That’s why creating psychological safety within you is so important. You create the internal conditions for you to flourish – to stay true to your true self and values and build your mastery as you lead others and the organization as a whole – rather than the numbing out and becoming disconnected that is all too common to leaders.
As a leader, you are a guide – yet you are continually on your own journey of growth and evolution. Your goal as a leader is to become more yourself, not less. In doing so, you become the best version of you as a leader that you can be.
Leadership from the Inside-Out: Psychological Safety Within
Most psychological safety literature talks about creating psychological safety at the organizational level.
There hasn’t been a lot of attention paid to developing psychological safety within individuals and within leaders. Psychological safety from the inside-out.
But if you want more insights, and better decision-making and problem-solving, you have to create the space for that to happen.
The space and conditions for your own mastery may be the single greatest gift you can give yourself, your people, and your organization. After all, as a leader, you can only give what you have.
An Expanded View of Psychological Safety
In the 1960s, Schein and Bennis defined psychological safety as a group phenomenon that reduces interpersonal risk – decreasing “a person’s anxiety about being basically accepted and worthwhile”.
Today, it’s often defined as the belief that a team is safe for risk taking. That you won’t be seen as ignorant, incompetent, negative, or disruptive, and won’t be humiliated, punished, or socially ousted for asking a question, admitting a mistake, or offering a new idea.
It’s good stuff, but it’s not enough.
In psychological safety PLUS, the belief that a team is safe for risk taking is part of it. But rather than the definition, it’s one of the outcomes. Psychological safety Plus focuses more on activating people’s potential.
Psychological safety PLUS is about creating the conditions where people feel protected from mental or emotional (and physical) danger, risk, or injury. Creating and holding spaces where people feel safe, seen, heard, and respected. Because those are the norms and conditions in which we flourish.
Those are the conditions that support both the unfolding of individual potential and the removal of obstacles to that potential and the boosting of the collective intelligence within a team.
Feeling psychologically safe enables you to be in that space of your best self more and more often. The individual best self and the organizational best self.
Psychological safety PLUS is the ultimate in human-centered leadership. It’s the foundation for authentic leadership and higher performance and the underpinning of turning organizations into learning organizations. It’s also an essential part of the shift from playing-not-to-lose to playing-to-win, from protection mode to exploratory, growth and expansion mode.
Situations Where We Thrive
We’ve all found ourselves in situations where we thrived and others where we didn’t. Psychological Safety PLUS is about understanding the elements or conditions that make us thrive so we can create them more often and at ever deeper levels.
That’s important because research shows that the right conditions raise individual potential and a group’s collective intelligence, while the wrong environments hobble teams and individuals – even when team members are exceptionally bright.
Psychological safety can be seen in how people feel. In high psychological safe conditions, you feel relaxed and energized. You feel a bond and a sense of being part of something greater than yourself. You feel able to be open and honest in communications, able to deal with things that are messy or difficult, and able to dissent without fear of being ostracized. You feel able to be fully present and not having to leave parts of yourself or your inner life at the door. You feel like you don’t have to separate work life and life life. You’re able to access the gifts you bring to the table at deeper levels because you feel safe to be your full self.
Psychological safety PLUS aims to make psychological safety more effective and wide-reaching.
It does this by bringing research from several fields together. It adds in emotions as a central component (after all, psychological safety is about how people feel). It shows why emotional intelligence will never fully create psychological safety and presents a better model. It talks about what’s behind creating a healthy sense of self in the workplace. It explores how to create communication safety by bringing awareness (and techniques) to what’s going on within each of us when we’re having a conversation and how to better navigate it.
And it adds the essential dimension of psychological safety from the inside out.