In a recent blog post on Leadership in 2020 I made reference to my desire of being a leader who “fosters a safe place for people to do the dangerous.”
Since publishing, several people have reached out and said, “tell me more about what you mean by that?” Given the layers of the two, I wanted to break it down…
1. “fosters a safe place” SO THAT….
2. “people can do the dangerous.”
Safety is like oxygen. You don’t pay much attention to it when it’s present, but notice right away when it’s not.
But how do we create and foster safe places?
1. Safe leaders engage others as fellow human beings.
Seriously? Yeah, seriously. It’s that big of a deal. You’re not an executive, boss, manager, pastor, accountant, HR Director or lawyer first. Being human is what unites you with every other person in the workspace. When you’re discussing projects, challenges, opportunities and just about anything else, you’re both humans – with thoughts, emotions, dreams, fears, and families. When we start from hierarchical position, background or authority, we give a full-on throat punch to creating a culture of safety.
2. Safe leaders make thoughtful decisions and share the factors involved.
Just imagine making all your plans based on a magic 8 ball. “Don’t count on it” or “As I see it, yes.” That’s a super frustrating way to determine directives and yet it’s how many team members feel when they hear about a leader or company’s decision. When the leader makes thoughtful decisions and communicates to an appropriate degree the factors involved, the team can operate with a level of clarity and confidence around the direction. If they agree, full speed ahead. If they don’t, at least they understand the factors and rationale. If they frequently disagree, they can disconnect from the team and everyone is one step closer to alignment.
3. Safe leaders carry a strong sense of identity.
Leaders who foster safe environments frequently live out of a place of safety and security. They’re not looking for their personal security in their position or from their teams. These leaders know who they are and carry a strong awareness of their strengths and weaknesses. This allows them to hone in on what only they can do and carry appreciation and respect for what others bring to the table.
4. Safe leaders find ways to do it together.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” This African proverb relates ever so closely to fostering a safe place for team members to thrive. Leadership isn’t primarily found in pulling triggers and exercising authority. Our team members have important backgrounds and crucial experiences that are powerful in shaping the directions we ought to go from a strategy, culture and execution perspective. The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team talks about “Vulnerability Based Trust” and “Healthy Debate” as the foundation of the pyramid.
When we sharpen ideas together, there is a level of precision, alignment, and safety that just isn’t possible when a leader wakes up and simply points in a direction.
What are some other ways that leaders foster safe cultures?
In leadership, it is important that we are laying a groundwork of safety so that people and teams can grow and thrive together.