I just finished reading Brene Brown’s book, Dare to Lead, and I took such extensive notes as SO MUCH of it deeply resonated with me. If you haven’t heard of her or read/watched any of her content, I implore you to take a month off work immediately and take a deep dive. She has a recent talk on Netflix, ‘The Call to Courage’, that’s definitely worth the watch. Her messages about courage, vulnerability, leadership, shame and wholehearted living are I believe, incredibly pertinent and relevant to everyone.
For now, I wanted to look at one particular aspect from her book Dare to Lead – the key ingredient everyone needs in order to thrive at work: psychological safety.
Google’s 2011 study ‘Project Aristotle’ looked at successful, productive teams and measured five dynamics which these teams had in common. The one dynamic that was far set apart from the rest, was that of psychological safety, a term I hadn’t heard before reading this book. The other four, for those who are interested, are dependability, meaning, impact and structure & clarity.
In summary, psychologically safe work environments are those in which people believe:
- They will not be penalised nor thought less of for making a mistake
- They will not be resented nor humiliated for asking for help or information
- They can give tough feedback and have difficult conversations without the need to tiptoe around the truth
Essentially, when we feel this level of safety, we can show up at work without the heavy armour we often carry around, with a confidence that we can be our whole selves and be much more productive as a result. Sounds dreamy right.
Since entering full time employment in 2011, I have taken a myriad of self-awareness tests, and can now reel off my Myers Briggs profile, my strengths from Gallup’s Strengthfinders, my Enneagream type and my personality ‘colour’, to name a few. But not once, (to my recollection) have I explored with a team, the global dynamics and universal needs required to thrive as a collective. This term psychological safety, put a name and wealth of research to a vital ‘something’ that I previously couldn’t put my finger on, even though I have been distinctly affected by its existence or lack thereof. It helped me understand exactly why I have sometimes flourished and other times experienced turbulence at work, and has left me with a clearer sense of what to look out for in the future.
How are these safe environments created and fostered? I’m certainly no expert on this, but what I found really helpful was Brene’s exploration of 15 comparisons between ‘Armoured’ and ‘Daring’ leadership styles, which I’ve listed at the bottom; the Daring style being the benchmark. I found it to be an illuminating exercise to reflect on each, relating them to the varied experiences I’ve had at work, along with the different environments I have personally cultivated around me.
We may not all lead a team, nor be directly responsible for setting the cultural values of a department, however we ALL carry influence and can set examples of how best to walk through life.
We can also hone the two essential components Brene lays out as being the foundation for great leadership: self-love and self-awareness.
In terms of self-awareness, it’s important to recognise early warning signs that you may be in a psychologically unsafe work environment, i.e. ongoing stress, work dread, disproportionate anxiety, tears or anger, waking in the middle of the night fearing an upcoming conversation with a colleague or re-living a past one.
If this is the case, I’d recommend the following, as these conditions can become chronic, if we don’t create healthy outlets to move us forwards. These are just a couple of examples of what I’ve found helpful in the past, there are MANY more, and hasten to add, I’m not a professional, just a person who can share her experience:
- Find a safe person or two: Keep it boundaried, don’t overshare, don’t make work your world. Find one or two people you can speak openly with, who are wise, love you, allow you to take your armour off, reaffirm your identity and encourage you, which literally means ‘put courage into’ you. Love that. It may be that one of these people needs to be a therapist, as someone objective and professionally qualified may be best-placed to help you in times of extreme stress.
- Find rest: If you need more time to yourself, more time to sleep, more time to unwind, then take it. Don’t feel guilty. Your body has a habit of telling you what you need.
- Find joy: Reflect on and write a list of what truly brings you joy. When are you in your zone? Brene’s research clearly demonstrates that those who lean into joy have in common the practise of gratitude, be it with a gratitude diary, texting appreciative notes to friends, or whatever works best for you. I’ve started writing prayers of gratitude each morning and it it helps set my mindset for the rest of the day.
I could write so much more about this, but I’ll simply encourage you to read Brene Brown’s book to explore this topic more deeply, as I’ve merely scratched the surface. I hope to write another blog soon, exploring another topic from the book: our TWO core values, the lens through which we see the world and make decisions.
I’ll leave you with the reflection exercise below. And if you’d like to chat about anything that you agree, disagree with or would love to discuss further, I’d be so keen.
Take a look at the binary leadership styles and have a think about what you emanate and experience in your own lives and the steps you could take to foster courage and live as Brene puts it, with a ‘strong back, soft front, wild heart.
Armoured leadership response Vs Daring Leadership response
- Armoured: Driving perfectionism and fostering fear of failure. Daring: Modelling and encouraging healthy striving, empathy and self-compassion.
- Armoured: Working from scarcity and squandering the chance for joy and recognition. Daring: Practising gratitude and celebrating milestones and victories.
- Armoured: Numbing. Daring: Setting boundaries, and rather than numbing, finding real comfort.
- Armoured: Propagating the false dichotomy of victim or viking, crush or be crushed. Daring: Practising integration: strong back, soft front, wild heart.
- Armoured: Being a knower and being right. Daring:Being a learner and getting it right.
- Armoured: Hiding behind cynicism. Daring: Modelling clarity, kindness and hope.
- Armoured: Using criticism as self-protection. Daring: Making contributions and taking risks.
- Armoured: Using power over. Daring: Using power with, to and within.
- Armoured: Hustling for our worth. Daring: Knowing our value.
- Armoured: Leading for compliance and control. Daring: Cultivating commitment and shared purpose.
- Armoured: Weaponising fear and uncertainty. Daring: Naming, acknowledging and normalising collective fear and uncertainty.
- Armoured: Rewarding exhaustion as a status symbol and attaching productivity to self-worth. Daring: Supporting and modelling rest, play and recovery.
- Armoured: Tolerating discrimination, echo chambers and a ‘fitting in’ culture. Daring: Cultivating a culture of belonging, inclusivity and diverse perspectives.
- Armoured: Collecting gold stars. Daring: Giving gold stars.
- Armoured: Zigzagging and avoiding.Daring:Straight talking and taking action.
- Armoured: Leading from hurt. Daring: Leading from heart.