The #1 Thing ALL Leaders Need ... But Forget To Give Others

Being a leader is intense.

And, as a leader, you probably feel immense pressure every single day.

A survey from the Center for Creative Leadership states that 88 percent of leaders report that their leadership role is a “primary source of stress” in their lives and that their stress is caused equally by their bosses, peers, and direct reports.

That’s why it never surprises me when executive coaching clients give a literal sigh of relief during their sessions … because they’re experiencing something they rarely do in their normal work day: SAFETY.

Every leader (every human being!) needs a space for emotional and psychological safety.

A place where they can step back, take a breath, unpack what’s stuck, reconnect to self, and, most importantly, fumble around a bit — privately — while trying to understand tricky situations and evolve their skill sets.

That space must be supportive without coddling; it must respect the dignity and power already present in the leader, while also allowing them space to reconnect to their own inner wisdom and see the situation at hand in a new light.

When constructed well, that safe space propels people forward; it does not let them hide or hold back.

I’ve seen so many leaders rise to amazing new heights when afforded a space like that in which to grow.

Which is why it’s SO important for leaders to provide the people below them with the same thing that they, themselves, need to thrive— SAFETY.

Especially if that leader feels stress and intense pressure in the work environment.

Trying to manage the employees below you and the bosses above you at the same time is no small feat. But you can influence executive leadership in positive, transformative ways by delivering excellence via the team you lead.

And when you create a culture of safety and respect with your team — (at, Google, “psychological safety” is considered key to building successful teams), that climate yields better outcomes, prompting people at ALL levels to take notice.

In short, role model upward!

Here are 4 powerful ways to create safety for your team (and, in doing so, safety for yourself).

1. Embrace a “practice makes perfect” mindset  

Growth is a process; it takes time and a fair amount of PRACTICE to truly alter behavior. “Never make the same mistake twice” is a nice concept, but not always realistic. Give your employees a reasonable amount of time to behave their way into change.

As writer and speaker Jeff Haden says, “Sure, you can try to ‘hack’ a goal. Sure, you can look for shortcuts … But eventually achieving a huge goal is all about volume and repetition.”

So, don’t demand instant perfection, insist on steady improvement instead. That might mean improving one aspect of the larger goal at a time, not nailing it all at once.

2. Follow through with your promise of support

Nothing deflates an employee faster than leaving a meeting energized, hopeful and motivated because you’ve promised to support their growth in a specific area, only to have you then fall short on follow through.

Yes, you’re busy. You’re not available at the drop of a hat. So set up a realistic plan for giving your support. Should your team member send you an email at the end of the week with ideas for you to give feedback on? You can’t hand hold employees too much, but they do need space to workshop through aspects of new ideas or processes with you. If you said you’d make time to help, keep your word!

“Coaching takes a lot of energy,” says Jeff Weiner , LinkedIn CEO. “It’s exhausting, because you need to understand what the person’s about, their strengths and weaknesses, their hopes, dreams, and fears. And then you have to deliver messages in such a way that’s tailor-made for them so they can internalize it, and most importantly — this is where true scale begins to happen — they can start coaching people on their team to do it.”

3. Use discretion to build trust

Don’t throw your people under the bus by letting other members of the team know one employee’s specific struggle. Above all, true “safety” honors personal dignity.

It’s hard for someone to admit they’re in over their head, or face that they’re weak in an area of critical performance. Don’t let them off the hook or let them hide from the issue. But, also, don’t shame them for struggling. It’s hard for everyone when their comfort zones get pushed. Showing some discretion and empathy is vital here.

Also, anticipate questions your employee may forget to ask or details they may fail to think through in the midst of being nervous and/or embarrassed about needing your support. The ability (and willingness) to do this is the mark of both a compassionate and a strategic leader — looking out for a struggling employee, from the very start of their effort to improve performance, builds trust and loyalty in powerful ways.

4. Look out for your “good employees,” too

Every employee needs coaching not just under-performers. Your strongest employees need a chance to expand new skills and feel challenged. Just because their performance meets your needs does not mean they’re personally happy and want to remain where they are.

Just like struggling employees need to know you won’t shame them because they’re still developing, your rock solid employees need to know they’re not in danger of you stifling their career by leaving them stuck in a job they “do well” by your standards, but that they find boring or unfulfilling.

When an employee offers up a strong idea, give them credit for it! When a team member requests time or resources to try a new idea or approach, figure out how to provide that and let them play a bit.

Remember creating a work environment that makes employees feel safe and respected ultimately creates a safer, less stressful environment for you, too.

So, run interference for your team. Create elasticity to parameters that allow those you lead to try new things, explore new approaches, and figure out new solutions. (Yes, of course while still keeping goals, deadlines and outcomes on track.)

But within a space of safety, your team can innovate by having time to look at things from new perspectives in order to evolve ideas and practices versus just blindly doing what they’re told.

The safety you afford them translates into better performance which ultimately makes you look good (which increases your safety in the workplace, as well).

In short, always have your team’s back. Always.

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Categories: Leadership, Organizational culture, Team Building

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