LEAD|August 25, 2020
By: D.C. Alves M.Ed., Chief Leadership Officer, ExuLAB
Do you feel happy going to work- whether WFH (working from home) or in-person? Are you excited? Do you feel like you are making a helpful and positive difference in the world with your contribution of talent? Do you feel you can trust your colleagues? Do you feel you are working to your strengths? Do you feel that you can talk to your boss honestly and openly without fear? Are you free to share ideas, create and be innovative?
Or are you scared and in fear and just trying to hold on?
Many organizations are vigilant about providing for the safety of their employees and fulfilling compliance requirements. Safety is probably one of the most critical concerns of executive leaders. Ensuring that no one gets hurt on the job and that environments are structurally sound are so vital that it goes without saying. Of course safety is probably the number one concern of well- everyone. After all, who really wants to get hurt--ever? No one!
We spend so much time and money on safety- yet the safety we are providing for is in all actuality physical safety. While crucially important... what about providing for the emotional safety of every employee? Emotional safety and well-being are equally as, if not more important than, physical safety.
The well-being that comes with emotional safety is the secret sauce of success. When your employees feel that they are emotionally safe, they are happy and excited to come to work, to contribute new ideas and to make a positive impact because they are not afraid. There is a level of trust that becomes the foundation for stratospheric success. And it is up to leaders to create this environment and model the way forward.
Creating emotional safety is probably one of the most challenging aspects of management because it requires leaders to be brutally honesty with themselves and their teams- and- it requires teams to be brutally honest with themselves as well. It is a two-way street. It requires a commitment by the leader to maintain emotional safety as a standard and expectation. There is a level of vulnerability that comes with this level of honesty. And the only way for it to work is if there is complete trust. Trust to share and be open. Trust to communicate. Trust to be free.
Trust is the antidote of fear.
When you have trust- you can do anything. Creating trust requires that leaders value honesty and set expectations of care, concern and kindness. But words are one thing, actions are another. A leader or colleague can say these things, but inside you just don't feel like it is real, genuine or authentic- because it isn't. Trust is something that builds over time and you can hear in words and feel in action.
Trust is the root of emotional safety.
It really depends on where a leader's priorities lie. If you value selfish agenda pushing, gossip, strategizing how to step on others to get ahead, disrespect, ostracizing others or sabotaging colleagues- developing trust is probably not one of your priorities! Trust is really a reflection of your character. Only leaders of genuine integrity and character can create the trust that emotional safety requires. You must first start there.
Creating an environment of emotional safety through trust provides a resounding "yes" to the questions posed in our first paragraph.
It doesn't require you to be perfect. It requires you to care.
5 Leader Practices to Help Build Emotional Safety
1. Communicate- Sounds trite right? Not really. Real communication requires that you make an effort to ensure that all points of view are understood, including your own. It requires a commitment for everyone to be on the very same page and clearly understand the situation, context and truth of each person's feelings. It doesn't require agreement, it requires mutual respect and a willingness to understand perspectives. Hearing and being heard and knowing that it is ok to be real, to share and be honest without fear.
2. Be Present- Be fully present with people and avoid distractions when you meet. Set time aside and concentrate on being there for each other. Give your full attention. Meet so that you can see each other through video or in-person.
3. Encourage- Show others you believe in them- support their projects, ideas, and innovation. Be their biggest fan and cheerleader- praise them on their accomplishments. Delight in their success. Encourage them even when they feel discouraged.
4. Professional Development- People know you care when you spend time with and give them your attention- whether virtually or in-person. They can feel that you have their best interest in mind when you take the time to help, mentor, train or coach. Learn about them, find out what their strengths are and how you can help them do projects they would love. Seek to develop them and be interested in advancing their professional growth.
5. No Fear- Let them know that with you, they are safe.