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Leadership Development

The Impact of Psychological Safety on Leadership Development

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Connecting Leadership Practices to Inclusion and Innovation

The pandemic gave us all the opportunity to reflect on what is important in the “now”—and, at FlashPoint, we are hearing from our clients that employees are losing tolerance for toxic bosses and unhealthy work environments at a faster pace than pre-pandemic.

It seems the financial security their job brings doesn’t outweigh the very real physical and mental cost that working in a toxic environment can have. What is at the root of this shift?

Leaders Need Psychological Safety as Much as They Need Leadership Development

Not unlike the spring flowers that are finally popping up, employees are beginning to emerge from the craziness that COVID-19 brought to all of us. Many of our work environments are new—some of us are acclimating to life going into an office, while some of us are working remotely permanently. Both are adjustments and opportunities for a fresh start of some kind.

While many are eager to push the ‘restart’ button, as a Certified Master of The Leadership Challenge®, one of the roadblocks I hear consistently is that it’s hard to do when working for a leader who isn’t inclusive or open to other people’s ideas or opinions.

Where this emerges most frequently is in an exercise we take leaders through where they are asked to reflect on a time where they felt empowered because of something someone said or did, or disempowered, and what impact these both had on them. Often, we hear from the ‘disempowered’ experiences that:

  • Employees aren’t involved in decisions that impact their job performance.
  • Their diverse viewpoints are not being invited or listened to.
  • They are limited in how they can look for ways to improve what they do.
  • They are given very little freedom and choice in how they do their work.
  • They are not given the opportunity to learn new things.
  • They are left with a feeling of not being treated with dignity and respect.

What is at the root of all of the above (in addition to very poor leadership) is ultimately a lack of psychological safety.

Psychological safety essentially is an environment where we feel safe to be ourselves, to learn, fail, and try again, to contribute to the team in a meaningful way, to challenge the status quo when necessary, and to do it all without fear of repercussion. Thus, the word ‘safety’.

When we have high levels of psychological safety, the team feels a strong sense of belonging and applies discretionary effort to their work. This means we get high performance and the kind of innovation that our organizations need to serve our customers well and stay competitive in the marketplace.

Just as we believe that leadership is everyone’s business, so is creating psychological safety. While there is certainly a heightened expectation that people leaders are modeling this, it’s up to everyone in an organization to create a culture of psychological safety.

Psychological safety must be practiced. It is perishable. Just because we might have created it today for our team in some way, doesn’t mean it will still be there tomorrow. It takes consistent work and intention to sustain it.

We are finding that psychological safety can be an important next step for clients in their leadership journey either before or after investing in leadership development, such as The Leadership Challenge® Workshop. At FlashPoint, we are intentional with our clients to build on the good foundation we have already laid and to ensure that what comes next leverages prior learning and meets the need of today's leaders, now. If you’d like to explore more about how The Leadership Challenge® and psychological safety can impact leaders in your organization, or build on each other, we’d love to have a conversation!

Photo by Roberto Reposo on Unsplash


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Amy Savage

Amy Savage is an expert at facilitating transformational leadership experiences and coaching leaders through a research-based framework that enables growth.