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- The Myth of a Psychologically Safe Workplace
Calling yourself a leader is easy. It’s leading in ways that others feel included, are able to take risks, and provide critical feedback without fear that it is hard. A recent McKinsey global survey makes this truth glaringly obvious. Researchers found that most leaders believe their workplace is psychologically safe. However, only 43% of employees indicate a positive team climate at work, only 30% see a reason to say something when they see something is wrong, and only 30% believe their opinion counts. Some leaders are more prepared to accept this reality than others. In a fast-paced digital workplace leaders accept silence and high employee turnover as variables outside their influence. And, of course, the workplace is volatile and complex. Leaders must focus on delivering results and being responsive, or fall behind. But a daily focus on urgent and important tasks traps leaders in bad habits that rarely pay off. Here are five actions to battle the myth of a psychologically safe workplace. The benefits of psychological safety We all share a need to belong. Psychological safety is a condition when you feel included, able to learn, contribute, and provide critical feedback without fear of being embarrassed, excluded, or penalized. There are four levels of psychological safety: Inclusion safety – We are constantly dividing the world between them and us. Inclusion safety is creating a shared identity so others are viewed as being in the same group. Learner safety – This is feeling safe enough to experiment, ask questions, and fail as a part of the learning process. Contributor safety – Is participating as an active full-fledged member of the team supported by autonomy and encouragement. Challenger safety – This is the last stage when others are able to provide constructive criticism and engage in productive conflict without fear of exclusion or retaliation. This is the stage where individuals can innovate. Evidence suggests that psychological safety leads to reduced costs and increased profitability from: Increased innovation and quicker time-to-market Ability to learn from mistakes and increased efficiency Increased health and safety reporting and decreased risk Higher employee engagement and lower employee turnover and absenteeism Improved company brand reputation and ability to recruit The urge to change and feeling stuck I don’t believe the biggest barrier to leading in ways that others feel included, are able to take risks, and provide critical feedback is creating a greater desire for better habits. But, the answer can be found in greater awareness of proven principles and practical tools that busy leaders can successfully apply. The truth is that anything worth doing isn’t always fun and it certainly isn’t easy. As you work on building new leadership habits, it is not uncommon to feel stuck. I’ve got many personal examples, and I am sure you do as well. Whether you are just starting or have been working on making changes for months, it doesn’t matter. Anyone that has tried to build better habits has encountered the feeling of being stuck. Occasionally, it’s not that you are really stuck but that the changes are not noticeable or happening at the pace you desire. Small changes can be difficult to notice when comparing changes day-to-day. Also, improvement doesn’t always happen in a linear or exponential way, as we would like. Psychological Safety Myth Buster #1: Get Perspective If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there. While the most important action you take is the first step toward improving, creating a burning platform for change provides the motivation to take the first step. A great way to gain perspective into psychological safety is by getting curious. You can use the following questions in a one-to-one meeting or as an anonymous pulse survey with a team. I would suggest asking for responses in the form of a rating scale versus simply yes or no. Q1. I feel a sense of belonging within my team. Q2. I am myself at work. Q3. I am comfortable asking my leader about my work. Q4. I am comfortable asking my peers for help when needed. Q5. I offer advice to my peers. Q6. I go above and beyond my job expectations. Q7. I am comfortable suggesting ways of getting work done better. Q8. I speak up without fear of retaliation. Psychological Safety Myth Buster #2: Create Accountability Talking with a trusted advisor that can listen, provide perspective, and partner with you for accountability to take action is a high ROI activity. An executive coach can be an excellent, trusted advisor, providing a goal-oriented, solution-focused process in which you collaboratively build action plans and take steps to achieve your goal. Psychological Safety Myth Buster #3: Build Capacity Like physical endurance and strength can be enhanced with training, your capacity for changing your leadership habits can improve with development. Practicing small acts of self-control, like exercise followed by periods of rest, builds self-control capacity. What activity is practiced is not essential, but the amount of self-control exerted is critical. In other words, it is not what type of weight lifting you do but how much weight you lift. Increasing your self-control capacity helps you persevere when you experience challenges. Psychological Safety Myth Buster Activity #4: Change Your World This one is super practical. Change is rarely as easy as we imagine. And your world is perfectly designed for the leadership habits you have right now. You are getting some physical, social, or emotional benefits from your current habits. It is important to be deliberate about creating space for reflection and adding some positive reinforcement for your new habits. Psychological Safety Myth Buster Activity #5: One Step at a Time In my new book Life-Changing Leadership Habits, I provide 10 proven principles to help leaders get more out of life and work. When changing habits, it's critical to pick a replacement habit to start and not only focus on what you will stop doing. Even if you identify several habits you want to change, you will see the most growth by taking it one step at a time rather than attempting to change multiple habits all at once. Getting to where you are going I learned an important life lesson on a business trip to Puerto Rico, traveling with a good friend. I could count on him for directions. And after picking up our rental car at the airport, we realized we didn’t have the address to our hotel. The GPS could tell us where we were in the world. However, without knowing where we were going, it was useless information. This experience taught me that what matters most in life is knowing where you are going. The secret to creating psychological safety is found in defining better or redefining effective leadership habits. You will not achieve your best without a clear picture. In Life-Changing Leadership Habits, I discuss the influence of our inner game and outer game on our leadership habits. I explore the vices, virtues, and complications associated with breaking ten of the worst leadership habits. And discuss practical transformational ideas grounded in the latest research that busy leaders can successfully apply. Striving for life-changing habits is a competitive advantage available to any leader looking for a powerful point of differentiation. Breaking bad habits is possible but not easy. Like hiking, the first step begins with being entirely willing to take a step and make a change. What challenges are you facing leading in ways that create psychological safety? What is the cost to you and your business if you throw in the towel on psychological safety? References Clark. (2020). The 4 stages of psychological safety : defining the path to inclusion and innovation (First edition.). Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Incorporated. Doolittle, J. (2023). Life-changing leadership habits: 10 Proven principles that will elevate people, profit, and purpose. Organizational Talent Consulting. Edmondson, A. & Hugander, P. (2021). 4 Steps to boost psychological safety at your workplace. Harvard Business Review. Wood, W., Tam, L., & Witt, M. G. (2005). Changing circumstances, disrupting habits. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88(6), 918-933. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-35220.127.116.118
- How to Stop Micro-Managing Your Team
It is easy for a leader to kill motivation and respect within a team. A lack of attention or emotional connection and you are perceived as being aloof. Too much attention in the day-to-day, and the team feels a loss of autonomy and control. Research suggests that mismatched management reduces morale, trust, and productivity and increases employee turnover. Partnering for performance is one way to develop self-reliant achievers and avoid micro-managing your team. It is a high ROI investment into your success and business growth. Here are three keys to effectively partnering for performance. What is mismatched management? Mismatched management occurs when leaders micro-manage and take away decision-making from capable and committed followers or macro-manage and fail to provide enough direction. Micro-management is a hard habit to break. It is described as an overly hands-on approach when leaders don't delegate, overcommunicate, or manage with excessive control and attention to detail. This leadership style often stems from believing that the leader knows best and the stakes are high. Leaders who trust their follower's competence and commitment are less likely to micromanage. Self-determination theory (SDT) suggests that intrinsic work motivation stems from the psychological needs of employees to possess autonomy, mastery, and purpose. When leaders micro-manage, it demotivates followers by increasing feelings of loss of control. Here is a humorous example of micro-management from the movie Office Space. Macro-management is a hands-off approach when leaders don't get involved and provide too little coaching and support for their team. This style of leadership is described as laissez-faire. Which loosely translated from French, means "let it be." Macro-management often stems from misreading the needs of followers and placing trust in followers based on assumptions rather than mutual understanding. When leaders abandon followers, team members experience feelings of confusion and frustration. What is partnering for performance? In today's complex and ambiguous workplace, leaders must excel in managing and leading to achieve success and significance. Excelling in management does not happen without intentional focus and striving for something greater. "Your role as a leader is even more important than you might imagine. You have the power to help people become winners." — Ken Blanchard A saying made famous by American football coach Vince Lombardi is that excellence is achieved in the pursuit of perfection. To excel at management requires a clear vision of the ideal and hard work toward performing at the highest level possible. Partnering is about agreeing on what you and your team need from each other as you work together toward shared goals. It focuses on doing things right and managing routine complexity in day-to-day activities. A leader's ability to engage and retain their team is essential for excelling in management. When leaders appropriately partner for performance, it leads to an improved discretionary effort, trust, and intent to stay outcomes. Key #1: High-Quality Relationships Partnering with followers begins with developing high-quality relationships. These relationships unlock the potential to understand better the stated and unstated needs of followers and the given situation. Leaders with high-quality relationships are more likely to match their management approach with the follower's needs and give their people the space they need to succeed and learn. A common theme in the research on building or restoring trust in a relationship is to be transparent in your discussions. Ironically, the most robust trust occurs when we can disagree and leave the conversation without negative feelings. The goal is to create safety by being open and candid to demonstrate caring and respect. This intimacy requires being personal and the willingness to have an uncomfortable conversation. Next, focus on building the relationship. As a leader, this requires you to step back and discuss what works for others and you. Creating a shared idea of success is the goal. The "your way or the highway" leadership style does not work to build or restore trust in relationships. It is essential to understand both the context and perspectives of others and emphasize the other person. Lastly, do not judge too quickly. Learn to test assumptions about a follower's commitment and capability and try to see the world from their point of view. Key #2: Diagnosis Figuring out the follower's task competence level and commitment requires communication and trust-based relationships. Without a complete picture of the needs of followers, it is difficult to get the correct level of attention, leading to followers' feelings of micro- or macro-management. High-quality trust-based relationships create the opportunity for feedback to understand if a leader's understanding is accurate and, as needed, how to align their leadership style. There are four attributes to diagnose competence and commitment. What is the specific goal or task in question? How strong are the follower's demonstrated or transferable task knowledge and skills? How motivated is the follower toward the task? How confident is the follower about the task? Key #3: Agility Once leaders appropriately understand the follower's needs, they must be agile with their approach to the proper level of support, motivation, and direction needed. Followers with less task maturity need guidance; followers with more significant experience and commitment need more supporting behaviors. A common fallacy is that followers need the level of direction and support the leader required when they were doing the task or that a one-size fits all approach works. The best practice is to apply the Platinum Rule. Do for others as they would want to have done for them. Partnering for performance is one way to get the performance you need. What is your real partnering for performance challenge? References: Blanchard, K. (2007). Heart of a Leader: Insights on the Art of Influence. David C. Cook Publishing Company. Glaser, J. (2014). Conversational Intelligence: How great leaders build trust and get extraordinary results. New York: Bibliomotion, Inc. Leavy, B. (2020). The dynamics of empowering leader/follower relationships. Strategy & Leadership, 48(6), 27-33. Zigarmi, D., & Roberts, T. P. (2017). A test of three basic assumptions of situational leadership® II model and their implications for HRD practitioners. European Journal of Training and Development, 41(3), 241-260.
- One Leadership Development Self-Assessment for True Success
Self-awareness is fundamental to getting more out of life and work. Evidence suggests it's a predictor of leader and company success. That goes for life too. Leadership creates dilemmas between right and right. Consider the often-competing responsibilities between your well-being, family, friends, and work. It doesn't stop there. It can be a struggle to keep track of your responsibilities. It is helpful to understand that the quality of your life is defined by the quality of the routine practices performed automatically in daily life. It is easy to get the need for better habits in theory, but in practice still fall into unintentional patterns and accidental habits. No leader I know sets out to develop bad habits. Also, I don't believe the most significant barrier for many leaders is creating a greater desire for better habits. The answer can be found in greater awareness of proven leadership principles, reflection, and practical tools that busy leaders can successfully apply. Here is one leadership development tool that creates the clarity you need to achieve your goals. Not sure where to start? An essential insight is to understand that work and life are interrelated. Each affects the other. Stress at work doesn't vanish when you walk out of the office. It can drain physical and mental health and tax the most important relationships. It's the same for stress in life. True self-awareness means seeing yourself objectively and knowing how you are doing from the perspectives of principles that apply in life and work. Easier said than done, right? It's challenging to keep a focus, especially given the nature of the fast-paced, ever-changing workplace. Unfortunately, self-awareness is rare in leaders. According to a global study by the Hay Group involving 17,000 leaders, less than one in five women and one in twenty men had a sense of self-awareness. Some leaders don't even try, pursuing whatever is perceived as most urgent at the moment as they move from meeting to meeting. It's a real struggle to keep focused in a fast-paced digital workplace. However, most habits do not get better on their own. A saying I heard in the food distribution industry is that we are all either ripe and rotting or green and growing. You will unlikely gain traction as a leader without focusing on what matters most. One tool that can provide awareness of what matters most in life and work is the Accidental Habit Assessment. This tool allows you to rate yourself on ten proven principles. It then calculates your score for each life-changing leadership habit displayed as a low, medium, or high score for each principle. How far can you go? The customized report and guide will provide you with an "aha" moment as you reflect on your leadership to understand your strengths and accidental habits needing improvement. Without reflection, perspectives quickly become blurred in a fast-paced workplace with potentially devastating consequences. Reflection facilitates learning, provides perspective on self-limiting beliefs when used purposefully, and improves productivity. Evidence suggests spending 15 minutes daily enhances productivity by as much as 23% more than those without reflection time. This is the first year for the assessment, and I love hearing how the assessment provides surprising insights into ways leaders can better elevate people, profit, and purpose. How far have you come? Getting from where you are to where you want to be is based on knowing where you are starting from and where you are going. The score provided in the Accidental Habit Assessment not only tells you where you are, it lets you know how far you have come. Habits contribute to the actions you will take tomorrow. But with a good understanding of your current habits, you can make better decisions informed by enhanced self-awareness and reflection. Improving your Life-Changing Leadership Habits score over time also helps provide the motivation and engagement needed for building better habits. How far will you go? During this 10-minute quiz, you'll answer 24 multiple-choice questions and choose which answers best describe you. Once you are finished, you'll receive a customized Life-Changing Leadership Habits report and guide to help you focus on what matters most. Best of all, this is totally free. Additionally, your report becomes a personalized reading plan to access researched and field-tested leadership resources and transformational tools in my new book, Life-Changing Leadership Habits: 10 Proven Principles That Will Elevate People, Profit, and Purpose. Don't miss this chance to discover your accidental habits. It's fast, free, and gives you the visibility you need to achieve success and significance in life and work. References Doolittle, J. (2023). Life-changing leadership habits: 10 Proven Principles That Will Elevate People, Profit, and Purpose. Flaum, J. (2018). When it comes to business leadership, nice guys finish first. Green Peak Partners and Cornell University. KornFerry. (2016). New Research Shows Women Are Better at Using Soft Skills Crucial for Effective Leadership and Superior Business Performance. Wilson, T., & Gilbert, D. (2005). Affective forecasting: Knowing what to want. Current Directions in Psychological Science: A Journal of the American Psychological Society, 14(3), 131-134. Zes, D., & Landis, D. (2013). A better return on self-awareness. Korn Ferry Institute.
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