Last Updated on August 3, 2023 by Flavia Calina
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the importance of psychological safety has become paramount. With the change in work culture with people working from home and the prevailing uncertainty, leaders must ensure that the employees are comfortable to speak up, ask questions, and share their ideas without fear, embarrassment, or being judged.
The Critical Role of Leadership in Fostering Psychological Safety at Work
A leader’s responsibility is to make strategic decisions, guide the team, and resolve conflicts to achieve business and organizational goals and at the same time foster a supportive and inclusive work culture.
A survey by McKinsey reports that 72% of respondents wish to work in an environment of psychological safety, but only 27% actually experience it. This indicates a gap between intention and reality which has to be filled up by proper training.
A trained leader in psychological safety strives to create a work culture with a greater degree of focus, effort, and skill. In a workplace, it’s quite natural for employees to be reluctant to ask questions, hold back ideas, and restrain themselves from disagreeing with their boss.
Psychological safety training for leaders fosters them to create the right environment for the right behavior. Understanding the principles of psychological safety creates an environment for candor.
Statistics On Psychological Safety
Let’s look at the data we can infer from the statistics on psychological safety from the survey conducted by McKinsey:
– Only 27% of respondents say they often or always experience psychological safety at work.
– Just 28% report that their leaders consistently listen carefully and ask questions to understand their view.
– Only 36% say their leaders consistently acknowledge their own limitations and mistakes.
These numbers underscore the need for more training and development focused on leadership behaviors that incite psychological safety at work.
Behaviors That Foster Psychological Safety
A leader creates a sustainable environment for team members to open up their ideas/concerns, to give and receive feedback, the willingness to say ‘no’ when they mean no, and to share their personal information without the fear of being judged.
Key Behaviors That Leaders Must Cultivate
- Encouraging participation: Leaders should actively solicit input from team members and welcome different viewpoints. This makes employees feel valued.
- Active listening: When team members speak up, leaders should listen attentively without interrupting. This makes employees feel heard.
- Seeking clarification: Leaders should ask thoughtful follow-up questions to gain a deeper understanding of employees’ perspectives.
- Admitting mistakes: By acknowledging their own missteps, leaders model openness and vulnerability for the team.
When a leader ensures that the employee feels belonged by cultivating the above-mentioned behaviors, employees are more likely to be productive and enjoy a positive and psychologically safe environment.
Difference Between Psychologically Safe vs Unsafe Work Environments
Here is a comparison table that could be added to the blog post to highlight key differences between psychologically safe vs unsafe work environments:
|Psychologically Safe Environment
|Psychologically Unsafe Environment
|Employees feel comfortable sharing ideas, asking questions, and raising concerns
|Employees are reluctant to voice opinions or challenge the status quo
|Innovation is encouraged; employees can take chances and learn from failures
|Employees avoid risks and potential mistakes
|Team members support each other and leverage collective skills
|Lack of trust impedes open communication and collaboration
|Leaders are inclusive, seek input, listen, and admit mistakes
|Leaders are authoritarian, dismissive of feedback, and punish failure
|Transparency, diversity, and vulnerability are valued
|Conformity is expected; “yes-men” get ahead
|Impact on performance
|Higher employee engagement, creativity, and productivity
|Constraints on talent; lagging innovation and agility
This table summarizes key differences between the two environments, highlighting why psychological safety is so vital for organizational success, especially during times of uncertainty and change.
The Critical Role of Senior Leaders
As senior leaders, it is vital to establish the culture for the entire organization while other leaders set the tone for their direct reports.
As per the McKinsey survey, in organizations where senior leaders role-modeled inclusive behaviors, team leaders were:
– 3.5x more likely to exhibit challenging leadership
– 2.6x more likely to be supportive and empowering
– 2.3x more likely to solicit team input
This cascading effect highlights why it’s so important for psychological safety to be championed from the top down. Leaders across the organization take cues from the C-suite.
Investing in Leadership Development
The data indicates that many leaders need help cultivating behaviors that foster psychological safety. Ongoing leadership training is key.
According to Gallup’s engagement survey, organizations that invest substantially in leadership development see better results as
– 22% higher productivity
– 21% higher profitability
– 27% higher engagement scores
Additionally, companies with a strong learning culture are 92% more likely to develop leaders who model transparency and ethical behavior.
Effective Leadership Development
Effective leadership training must concentrate specifically on an inclusive and psychologically safe environment. Some of the best practices are:
- Experiential learning: Use real workplace scenarios and role plays so leaders can practice skills.
- 360-degree feedback: Multi-rater assessments shed light on leaders’ blind spots.
- Executive coaching: Provide one-on-one support focused on emotional intelligence.
- Manager support groups: Foster continued peer learning.
Most importantly, the one-time training won’t be enough to change the entrenched behaviors and the path to effective leadership development is an ongoing process that must be embedded with the workflow.
Traditional Approach and Modern Best Practices
The following table highlights how modern leadership development has evolved to be more targeted, experiential, and focused on driving real culture change centered on psychological safety. It emphasizes why investing in leadership development must be specific, iterative, and an ongoing process.
|Modern Best Practices
|More lecture-based and classroom-style.
|It’s experimental and based on real-world cases.
|Mostly one-time with limited follow-up
|It’s a continuous process and embedded in the culture.
|The focus is more on generic leadership skills.
|It is focused on specific psychologically safe behaviors.
|Minimal feedback that provides limited insights.
|Provides 360-degree feedback with multiple perspectives.
|Little attention to transferring skills.
|There’s scope for executive coaching and peer learning.
|Stops with surface-level behavioral change.
|Penetrates deeply making an everlasting change in the behavior.
|Usually obliged to check the box so as to complete the training.
|Transcends the individual bringing true cultural transformation.
The Bottom Line
With change being the only thing that doesn’t change, psychological safety has gained importance. Organizations must invest in leadership development to reap the benefits of innovation, agility, and exponentially increasing the overall development of the organization.
Prioritizing training for the right skills fosters a culture of learning, and a sense of belongingness, and paves the best environment for employees to grow as well as contribute to the growth of the organization.
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