I’m always looking for ideas to help me think differently about leadership development. My colleagues on LinkedIn have not disappointed me.
There was a recent post that made me realize I’ve only begun to scratch the meaning and impact of inclusion, belonging, empathy and psychological safety. That’s what happened when Ruth Farenga posted a link to a Ted Talk by Matthew Gonnering. I was knocked out by his approach to finding the very best experts to teach his employees how to develop more empathy.
Is it possible to accomplish more working kinder rather than harder?
His idea was to hire developmentally disabled employees to fill various positions at his company. They had real jobs but their most important role was to demonstrate kindness and compassion. It’s something that comes naturally to them because they don’t have the normal levels of competitive fears and mistrust. As he states, they bring a sense of acceptance and belonging that completely changed the tenor of the workplace for the better. In addition to demonstrating the ultimate act of inclusion and respect for a group of individuals that are usually undervalued, Matthew touched a core truth I seldom think about. Is it possible to accomplish more working kinder rather than harder?
I realized one day that I could be myself completely with her in a way that I couldn’t with others because I did not have to worry about being judged or hearing about my mistakes.
This idea resonated with me because I had recently been deeply affected by my experience with a close friend who is in early stages of Alzheimers. One day, I was short with her because she asked where her glasses were for the 5th time and they were right in front of her. She calmly told me that no matter how many times I told her where the glasses were she would not remember. Not even if I became angry with her.
I felt ashamed of my behavior and resolved to remain patient. What happened then was amazing. As I began to accept her memory loss I no longer felt the need to correct her. If either of us made a mistake it was quickly forgotten. As a result I stopped worrying about needing to behave a certain way in her presence. Ironically this increased my patience and made it so much easier for me to stay calm when things went awry. I realized one day that I could be myself completely with her in a way that I couldn’t with others because I did not have to worry about being judged or hearing about my mistakes.
Perhaps what I am sharing reveals some serious flaws in my ability to handle stress, but this was a lesson I was able to transfer to other aspects of my life. Acceptance of others’ and my mistakes opened my ability to be in the present and aware. It did increase my capacity for compassion and empathy. This was a big aha for me. Fear of criticism and self-criticism prevent us from feeling the safety we need for personal growth.
There is a pressing need to prepare emerging leaders to create the conditions for psychological safety.
There is a lot of conversation around the importance of psychological safety for learning and organizational performance. There is also a pressing need to prepare emerging leaders to create those conditions.
I don’t think we will be successful until we’ve adequately addressed the fact that unless leaders feel psychologically safe themselves, they can’t do it for others. Without it patience is shorter, awareness of options is narrower and the energy for risk taking diminishes. Whether the stress is self induced or piled on from above, the solution involves self acceptance and the belief that mistakes are an opportunity to learn and begin anew.
No amount of logic and reasoning can replace psychological safety.
In most cases leaders who have high levels of employee engagement create psychological safety for others in their interactions. Yet, we must also address the need for leaders to create their own sense of safety as they mature. These are issues that can be addressed, but first they have to be recognized as priorities. No matter how much we invest in the technical and structural aspects of our organizations, success hinges on the quality of social relationships. Do we feel included and that we belong? Do we feel valued and on purpose? No amount of logic and reasoning can replace psychological safety.
You may read more about the specific practices, behaviors and leadership orientations that create psychological safety in my book, The Relationship Factor in Safety Leadership: Achieving success through employee engagement. These elements apply to all aspects of the organization, but are grounded in my 25 years of global experience with EHS.
This article was originally published on https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/recovering-underutilized-human-resources-rosa-antonia-carrillo/.