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Hi! I'm Stephanie, founder of the Empowered Leaders Academy.

Leading With Psychological Safety: From Fear to Flourishing

Published 13 days ago • 3 min read

Welcome Back, Reader

Does Your Team Really Have Psychological Safety?

Or do you just think they do?

"Our people speak up all the time in meetings!"

But is it the same people who always speak up?

"They feel comfortable bringing up issues to me!"

But do they blame others when they do?

"Everyone on my team is happy!"

But are they only cajoling you with what they think you want to hear?

Even worse...

The higher up in the leadership chain that your role is,

the further from seeing 'the bottom of the iceberg' (aka the truth) you become.

Layers upon layers of:

  • covering up mistakes
  • avoiding or ignoring issues
  • only sharing the 'good news'
  • pointing fingers and blame elsewhere

I've seen this personally

The 'Yes Men'

When I first moved into a corporate leadership role, my colleagues complained to each other about decisions being made. Yet in our group meeting with the Director, they turned into 'yes men' agreeing with every idea and not bringing up anything negative.

The first time I spoke up in disagreement (respectably yet with another perspective), it was met with a moment of silence and raised eyebrows all around. Ultimately, a productive conversation followed with the others finally admitting they agreed with me... although it felt like swimming upstream.

Each time that followed, my colleagues started kicking me under the table or staring at me to speak up first so that they could agree with me. (They still feared being the one to disagree first.)

The 'Vegas' Safe Zone

When the leadership meeting started with "this is Vegas, what happens here stays here", what followed was people attacking, blaming, and belittling others (often those not present) with no repercussions or productive outcomes.

Personal attacks were welcomed with smiles or laughter. Blame was met with agreement from others compounded by their own examples. It was a 'bash fest'. The outcome was reinforced silos and enabled toxic behavior that only grew worse.

To say I felt uncomfortable would be a gross understatement. It appeared that speaking up professionally was not how things got done here. It was definitely not a 'safe space' to speak up for fear that these same colleagues would 'stab me in the back' next.

It doesn't take long, or much, to lose psychological safety

  • They bring up an issue, but...
    • never get an answer or hear about it again
    • don't see any change as a result
    • are told to 'stay in your lane'
    • they get blamed for it
  • They ask a question, but...
    • it is ignored or avoided
    • the answer dances around the subject
    • they are made to feel stupid for not knowing the answer
  • They see toxic behavior ignored by a leader
    • offensive language is allowed
    • belittling others is normal
    • blame is encouraged
    • bullying is ignored

To regain psychological safety, it takes a lot of small changes and time

The 'Baby Steps'

When I took over an established team, they were fearful of me - or rather the unknown. I couldn't blame them after I read through my predecessor's notes and listened to how my superiors spoke poorly about my team.

I took the first steps, opening up to them in team meetings, being vulnerable with them. I asked them for positive feedback about their peers, never asking for the negative.

We had discussions around civility, EQ and more to set a groundwork. When talking about things that weren't going well, we focused on ideas for positive change and giving others the benefit of the doubt.

It took time. There were many practices we put in place as a team that built trust & respect.

Others began to see the difference first. When we approached other teams, they began to be more positive and willing to work with us.

My team began to open up to me about other concerns, without fear or trepidation in their approach. They felt seen and heard.

I saw their productivity improve beyond my expectations. They were engaged in their work, and with each other.

It felt like it happened naturally. No one could point to any one thing we did that made the difference. Yet each one of us felt the shift.

Reader -

It may seem like a lost cause, buy you really can make a difference in even the smallest of ways.

📩 Sometimes you need an outsider looking in

to help you see what's going on right in front of you.

When you, or your organization, are ready to focus on leadership development,

and building psychological safety,

I'm here and ready to guide you on that journey. 📩


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Wishing You Success,

Stephanie Weiss

Your Empowered Leadership Coach

P.S.

I welcome your feedback and your ideas for future topics.

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Hi! I'm Stephanie, founder of the Empowered Leaders Academy.

Guiding newer corporate leaders to transition from doer to boss - offering coaching, training & group support to help you build an extraordinary team along the way! Sign up for my newsletter, join an upcoming live event, apply to the community, or get 1:1 coaching.

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