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Why every leader should know about psychological safety

Ashley Neal
September 21, 2020
Why every leader should know about psychological safety

While well meaning, an office that pushes positivity above all can actually create an increasingly negative work environment. This is because when a teammate, employee or mentee feels as though they cannot come to their leaders with questions, mistakes or frustrations, it often results in declined creativity and innovation.

Psychological safety is “a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up,” wrote Harvard Business School Professor Amy Edmonson in her 1999 paper, “Psychological Safety and Learning Behavior in Work Teams.”

Depending on the culture within your organization, the psychological safety of staff or members can make or break goals for organizational growth. For example, Gali Cooks, the president and CEO of Leading Edge, shared how she discovered that in an attempt to keep a positive environment within the organization her staff was not comfortable asking for help.

“In trying to promote a positive culture, I was inhibiting an honest wrestling with ideas, which was hindering innovation and promoting some staff discontent,” said Cooks. “My staff had become hesitant to share feedback, deliver bad news, or express critical opinions about other people's ideas—even if those ideas would make our work better.”

So, how can associations foster a psychologically safe workplace?

In a recent interview on workplace culture, founder and CEO of Better Book Club and author of “Worth Doing Wrong: The Quest to Build a Culture That Rocks,” Arnie Malham said he believes in order to have a successful and innovative organization, culture must be supported at all levels.

“The No. 1 thing that prevents leaders from growing their business is them,” emphasized Malham. “The key mistake that leaders make is not understanding these three words: culture reflects leadership.”

To have the stability needed for a psychologically safe workplace, leaders must take on the responsibility of ensuring their employees feel validated and supported in their actions. Whether through triumphs or failures, allowing them to experiment, ask questions and even fail will lead to increased innovation and success in the long run. 

“It’s a powerful idea,” said Sidecar general manager Chelsea Brasted when interviewing Malham. “You have to show that you are believing in your team.”

It is the responsibility of great leadership to make sure organizations are a psychologically safe place. Emphasizing the importance of innovation, the ability to fail and creating a space for experimentation will lead your organization to bigger and better things.

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Ashley Neal

Ashley Neal joined the Sidecar team as Community Coordinator in March of 2020, right as the COVID-19 pandemic began to shut down life as we knew it. Having to adapt, overcome and predict the changes needed to survive in the new normal, Ashley now has the skills needed to juggle any obstacle thrown her way. A soon-to-be graduate from Southeastern Louisiana University in the field of Strategic Communications, Ashley spends her days balancing her work and education with her love of dogs. Taking her three dogs — Scooby, Pipsqueak and Moose — to restaurants, hiking trails, vacations and even participating in dog shows and sports is the highlight of her weekends.

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