When my son was a teenager, he got in some trouble. While this is not unusual for teenagers, what bothered me the most was I was the last to learn about the situation. When I asked my son why he didn’t come to me, he said I seemed so perfect, and he didn’t want to disappoint me or ruin my image. This broke my heart because I experienced similar challenges when I was his age.
About a month later, I was the last to learn that one of my top salespeople had lost a large deal we were counting on to make our quarterly number. When I asked the salesperson why they did not come to me for help, I received a similar answer to what my son had said – “You seem so perfect; I didn’t want to disappoint you.”
As I reflected on these two situations, it occurred to me that it was rare for people to come to me and give me bad news. I was overrun with people telling me good news, but little or no bad news. That was when I realized it wasn’t “safe” for others to bring me bad news.
Is It Safe to Bring You Bad News?
One natural tendency of leaders I have worked with is to put forward our best selves. We are not purposely trying to appear perfect, but we don’t mind if others are impressed. It takes a secure leader to develop a culture of authenticity where everyone on the team, including the leader, is encouraged and expected to be who they are.
To ensure you have a culture of authenticity that promotes psychological safety for the team, consider these ideas:
1. ARE YOU EXHIBITING VULNERABILITY OR PROMOTING A SPIRIT OF PERFECTIONISM?
Leaders who show vulnerability can help create an environment where employees feel comfortable doing the same. By acknowledging their mistakes and admitting when they don’t have all the answers, leaders can demonstrate that taking risks and making mistakes is okay.
2. ARE YOU ENCOURAGING OPEN COMMUNICATION AMONG THE TEAM?
Open communication begins with actively listening to the people on your team. The “active” in active listening includes seeking feedback, being curious about their points of view, and allowing space for them to share ideas and opinions.
3. DO YOUR TEAMMATES FEEL EMPOWERED TO MAKE DECISIONS AND TAKE OWNERSHIP OF THEIR WORK?
If you are micromanaging their work, you may communicate that you do not trust them. When trust is in question, psychological safety will also be in question. When employees feel empowered to make decisions, they are more likely to feel invested in their work and less afraid to take risks.
4. ARE YOU WORK TO ENSURE A GROWTH MINDSET ON YOUR TEAM (AND IN YOURSELF)?
When you help people grow and develop, you are communicating that you care for and value each person. When someone feels valued, they will make a great effort to communicate and collaborate at a high level.
A NEW BEGINNING
I confessed to my son that I had done him a great disservice by not sharing my challenges and mistakes. It was like a new beginning when I became more vulnerable with both him and my sales team. We communicated better; we collaborated more effectively; and most importantly, we were better able to grow and learn. We were even able to use setbacks as an opportunity to “fail forward,” allowing us to all learn from the mistakes of others, which prevented us from making the same mistakes.
If you are not hearing bad news from others, it may be time to ask yourself why and begin looking into ways to increase the psychological safety of your culture.
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